Addressing Your Labor Matters While Closing Your District Due to COVID-19
Empty Classroom

School districts have been directed to be closed until at least March 31, 2020.  The CIAC has cancelled winter sports playoffs and schools have cancelled extracurricular activities. 

So, what happens next?  Some employees will stay home without work.  Some may work from home.  Some may continue their job duties in one form or another.   Regardless, the district’s operations will continue either during the closure or when it is over.  For example, as we posted previously, the Centers for Disease Control and the State of Connecticut has issued guidance on the items school districts should seek to have in place in the event of a shutdown.  Part of that guidance advises districts to plan to have “some high quality, distance-learning opportunities that could be employed in the event of school closures…”  Some districts will implement distance learning alternatives which, if approved by the Commissioner of Education, will count towards the 180-day minimum school day requirement in Connecticut. (See the document issued by the Connecticut State Department of Education.) Other districts may forego this option and seek to make up for the lost time by extending the school year and other districts may seek to take advantage of the Governor’s waiver of the 180 school day requirement (provided that classes are in session up to and until June 30th ).

Whether sending employees home, imposing new job responsibilities or planning for distance instruction, schools must be aware of the labor issues that they may face as they close their doors and plan the balance of their school year.  Going forward, schools should plan for some or all the following issues:

  • If you are planning to provide a distance learning alternative, it is most advisable that the district and bargaining units plan for this alternative in a collaborative manner.  But more particularly, do you have a firm agreement with the bargaining units as to what their duties and other conditions of employment will be?
  • If yes, should you reduce that agreement to a written memorandum of agreement or understanding?
  • What if a teacher provides distant learning duties, but then works more than the contractual number of days in a work year?
  • For hourly, non-certified employees, does your collective bargaining agreement permit your district to unilaterally reduce the number of work days in a school year?
  • If certain non-certified employees are required to stay home (and not work), do you have an understanding (in writing) as to how they will complete the balance of their required work days?
  • Do you have an understanding (in writing) as to how non-certified employees will be paid for the balance of the school year if the applicable contract has a set number of work days?  In other words, will the employees be paid while they are home and through the last contractual amount of work days; or will they be paid when they return and then for the days they will actually work? 
  • What if employees have vacation plans after the last school day, but school is now extended through the week of the employee’s vacation?

            As schools close, these and other unexpected labor matters may appear along the way.  In some circumstances, the school district may have the ability to unilaterally address these issues.  In others, it may not.  In either case it will be advisable for districts to consult with counsel to avoid unnecessary grievances or prohibited practice charges.   Please note: we have addressed general labor and employment issues in our sister blog, “Working Together”.    

This blog/web site presents general information only. The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice, and you should not consider or rely on it as such. You should consult an attorney for individual advice regarding your own situation. This website is not an offer to represent you. You should not act, or refrain from acting, based upon any information at this website. Neither our presentation of such information nor your receipt of it creates nor will create an attorney-client relationship with any reader of this blog. Any links from another site to the blog are beyond the control of Pullman & Comley, LLC and do not convey their approval, support or any relationship to any site or organization. Any description of a result obtained for a client in the past is not intended to be, and is not, a guarantee or promise the firm can or will achieve a similar outcome.

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About Our School Law Blog

Alerts, commentary, and insights from the attorneys of Pullman & Comley’s School Law practice on federal and Connecticut law as it pertains to educational institutions, whether those institutions be public school districts, private K-12 schools, or post-secondary colleges and universities.

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