Christina PeerMarch 16, 2020 

On March 14, 2020, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) issued a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document designed to “help school and district leaders think through important local-level decisions.”  The FAQ document indicates it was developed in partnership with Ohio’s education associations as well as some of Ohio’s most trusted and innovative district leaders.  The FAQ document will be updated on a regular basis as events unfold.

The FAQ document seeks to answer a number of questions that arose in the wake of Governor Mike DeWine’s announcement that schools would be on an “extended spring break” for the next three weeks.  Questions immediately arose regarding what this “extended spring break” meant with respect to school operations.  The FAQ document provides guidance from the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) indicating that the “closure does not include administrators, teachers, staff, vendors or contractors of a school.”  Additionally, per ODH, “[t]he administration of each school shall determine the appropriate level of access to the school during the closure.”  Moreover, the FAQ document notes that the term “closure” reflects the concept “closed to students.”  This distinction is critical as schools determine how to proceed in the wake of this unprecedented situation.

The FAQ document makes clear Governor DeWine’s intention that schools will continue to provide educational opportunities, through alternate means, throughout the closure.  It urges school leaders, boards of education and union leadership to “work in partnership to maintain continuity of educational services as much as practicable during this unprecedented health crisis.”  Options covered in the FAQ document include the expanded use of “blizzard bags” and online learning.  Further, all students will be counted as “in attendance” for EMIS purposes for all non-spring break days during the closure.

The FAQ document makes clear that teachers, and other district personnel, are expected to continue working during the closure.  District leaders are urged to be “flexible” regarding how work is being completed, recognizing that some employees might have child-care issues or health-related issues that require additional flexibility.  For hourly employees, the FAQ document indicates that these individuals should “continue to report to school and partner with their schools and be paid consistent with Collective Bargaining Agreements or employee contracts.”  Employees are also urged to “be flexible in the manner in which they contribute to the continuity of operations.”

Not surprisingly, the FAQ document cannot answer all of the questions that have arisen due to the closure.  However, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) has affirmed its commitment to work with the Ohio General Assembly and/or federal agencies regarding numerous important issues including:

  • State testing and the impact on state report cards;
  • Minimum instructional hours required by state law; and
  • Compliance with timelines for students with disabilities (e.g., completion of evaluations, IEP annual reviews, etc.).

At this juncture, there is no definitive guidance regarding these issues.  With respect to teacher evaluations, school districts and unions are urged to develop a Memorandum of Understanding regarding timelines set forth in Collective Bargaining Agreements.  No guidance was provided regarding statutory time frames.

School districts should continue to closely monitor developments and consult legal counsel as needed.

Susan Keating Anderson is a partner at Walter | Haverfield who focuses her practice on education law. She can be reached at sanderson@walterhav.com or at 216-928-2936.

Christina Peer is chair of the Education Law group at Walter | Haverfield. She can be reached at cpeer@walterhav.com or at 216-928-2918.