Dear Clients and Friends,
We know you are getting inundated with emails about COVID-19 (Coronavirus). Some of those emails are out-of-date right after they hit your inbox. Our goal with this Legal Update is to provide you with information directly from government officials along with our analysis.
School Closures and Alternative Learning Options
During his press conference on March 12, 2020, Governor DeWine announced Ohio schools would be closed to children beginning at the end of the school day on March 16 and through April 3. He later put out a press release that provided additional details about the closings:
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has announced that due to the ongoing
COVID-19 crisis, he has ordered that all kindergarten through 12th grade schools close for a period of several weeks.
Beginning at the conclusion of the school day on Monday, March 16,
all K-12 schools will close to students through Friday, April 3. This order includes all public, community, and private K-12 schools in the state, but does not apply to Ohio’s childcare system such as daycare centers and home-based childcare providers.
During this extended period of closure, schools should work to provide education through alternative means and school district leadership may make decisions on whether to use their school buildings. Staff members should continue to report to school as directed by administrators.
“We want to thank educators and administrators for the extraordinary efforts they will take to continue offering services during this time of national crisis,” said Governor DeWine. Over the next 72 hours, the Ohio Department of Education will develop guidance for K-12 schools to ensure the continuity of important student services, including a strategy for providing meals.
School leaders will have to make decisions that are right for their students, staff and community as to whether they will use calamity days during this school closure time, roll out distance teaching and learning for their students, or use a combination of both. As you consider these options, keep in mind the following:
Currently, public school districts are required to provide students with a minimum number of hours of instruction each school year. Pursuant to R.C. 3313.48, the minimum hours are 455 for half-day kindergarten, 910 for full-day kindergarten and grades 1-6, and 1,001 for grades 7-12. Districts that put plans in place before the beginning of the school year may provide up to three (3) days of instruction through online course materials or “blizzard bags” when schools are closed. R.C. 3313.482. Governor DeWine suggested the General Assembly may take emergency action waiving or suspending minimum hour and testing requirements. There has been no resolution of these issues at this time. Because this is a rapidly evolving situation, school officials are well-advised to make alternative learning plans, monitor legislative developments and consult board counsel with specific questions.
R.C. Sections 3319.08(B) and 3319.081(G) provide for the payment of teaching and nonteaching employees for all time lost due to an epidemic or other public calamity. Collective bargaining agreements and board of education policies may include additional provisions related to paying employees on calamity days, specifically those who are required to report to work.
Alternative Learning Environments
Some school districts may choose to use all or some of this time to train staff on alternative learning options and to deliver that instruction. Districts that choose this option should consider how they will communicate with their staff about expectations to report to work, how and where they will deliver professional development to staff, what their goals are for that instruction and how that instruction will be delivered to their students.
Finally, school officials should review the continuity of the operations section of their emergency management plan and remain in close contact with their county health department when planning for alternative learning and other next steps.
Order to Limit and/or Prohibit Mass Gatherings
Many school districts already have made difficult decisions to cancel their extra-curricular and sporting events. If you are still considering how to address these events, please be aware the Ohio Director of Health issued an order on March 12, 2020. This order restricts “mass gatherings” throughout the State. A “mass gathering” is defined as any event or convening of more than 100 people in the same room at the same time. This includes interscholastic sporting events with spectators, but it specifically does not include schools and gatherings involving the exercise of First Amendment protected speech.
School Travel and Trips
Schools are also faced with difficult decision about cancelling school trips. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has information about travel available on its webpage. If your district has cancelled planned trips, you should review trip vendor contracts for refund terms. You also should determine if you have travel or credit card insurance that may provide coverage for cancellation costs. You also should consult your liability insurance provider about whether group trips continue to be insurable.
School Board Meetings
Yesterday, Ohio Attorney General David Yost also announced during a press conference that he is of the opinion that during the Coronavirus emergency, boards of education and other governmental bodies may meet without admitting members of the public. If a board chooses to do this, it must provide another means of public access, such as a live video feed of its meeting. Attorney General Yost suggested this is a temporary opinion. Yost also clarified that the Open Meetings Act, R.C. 121.22, continues to require boards to physically meet in person. Boards cannot conduct meetings online or by phone, and ill members may not participate in meetings remotely.
This Legal Update is based on current information. The issues addressed here are fluid and subject to rapid change. As this situation evolves, additional information about Coronavirus and the State’s response can be found here.
This Legal Update is intended as general information and should not be relied upon as legal advice. If advice is required, please contact us at (614) 222-8686 or via email.