Eric JohnsonPeter ZawadskiApril 9, 2020 

House Bill 197, which was meant to provide clarity to school districts on a range of issues due to school-building closures from the COVID-19 pandemic, resulted in more questions than answers. Specifically, those questions focused on OTES 1.0, OTES 2.0 and conducting teacher evaluations while school buildings are closed to students. On April 9, 2020, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) released a series of FAQs to address common questions that it has been receiving relating to teacher evaluations. The release contains helpful information to school districts as they strategize to meet their needs while also fulfilling their legal and contractual obligations during the school closure.

The following are highlights from ODE’s most recent guidance:

  • Local districts have discretion to complete evaluations on a case-by-case basis.
  • A “COVID-19” option has been added under the “Exemption” tab within eTPES and  OhioES, and by using it, the educator will maintain the rating and evaluation cycle that was in place at the start of the 2019-2020 school year when school begins in the fall of 2020.
  • Value-added data that was generated from state assessments administered in the 2018-2019 school year and was reported in the fall of 2019 will be used in completed evaluations for the 2019-2020 school year.
  • House Bill 197 does not provide discretion to waive specific required components of the evaluation process, such as student growth measures.
  • If evaluations are completed without the required student growth measures (excluding value-added), then those teachers must receive full evaluations in 2020-2021.
  • Student Learning Objectives and vendor assessment data must be from the current school year.
  • Districts are encouraged to explore the use of shared attribution.

The decision on what to do with teacher evaluations this year should not be taken lightly because of the direct impact on other high-stakes, job-related decisions, including potential non-renewals, continuing contract considerations and current or prospective reductions in force. Decisions to suspend evaluations – and how to categorize suspended evaluations under various sections of a bargaining agreement – can impact and limit employment decisions for years to come. Districts must also understand that the suspension of evaluations may act to freeze the teacher’s evaluation status; however, the teacher’s contract status must still be addressed in some fashion. It is critical to understand these issues and address them proactively when considering whether to suspend evaluations.

The ODE’s release includes the prominent disclaimer that it does not supplant existing collective bargaining agreement language, House Bill 197 or the Ohio Revised Code. So be sure to consult with legal counsel as you navigate this new and ever-changing landscape.

Eric Johnson is chair of the Labor and Employment Group at Walter | Haverfield. He also focuses on school law. Eric can be reached at ejohnson@walterhav.com or at 216-928-2890.

Peter Zawadski is an associate at Walter | Haverfield who focuses his practice on education law as well as labor and employment matters. He can be reached at pzawadski@walterhav.com and at 216-928-2920.