On March 27, 2020, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed into law emergency legislation that addresses the urgent needs of the State due to the COVID-19 pandemic. H.B. 197 goes into effect immediately. The new law addresses a wide range of issues, including the following:

Expectation of continuation of educational opportunities:

  • School districts are expected to provide ways to keep students actively engaged in learning from March 17, 2020 through the end of the school year.
  • School districts are also expected to grant students, who require access to in-person instruction in order to receive a diploma or complete a career technical program, access to these opportunities as soon as is reasonable after being deemed permissible by the Director of Health, even if this access occurs after the last instructional day of the school year.

 Make-up days or hours:

  • In order to make up days or hours that schools were closed during the 2019-2020 school year, per the Director of Health’s March 14, 2020 Order, schools may either:
    • Amend an existing plan to require students to access and complete classroom lessons in order to make up hours in the 2019-2020 school year for which it was necessary to close schools based on the Director of Health’s Order; or
    • Adopt a plan to require students to access and complete classroom lessons in order to make up hours for the 2019-2020 school year for which it was necessary to close per the Director of Health’s Order.
  • Amending an existing plan or adopting a plan can occur at any time after March 27, 2020.

 Authorization to extend or waive deadlines:

  • Authorizes the Superintendent of Public Instruction to extend or waive most deadlines as necessary to ensure that the safety of students, families, and communities are prioritized while continuing to ensure the efficient operation of the Department and schools.
  • Deadlines that may be extended or waived (but are not guaranteed at this time) by the State Superintendent include, but are not limited to, deadlines related to the following:
    • Employee evaluations
    • Notices of intent to not reemploy school personnel
    • Conducting school safety drills
    • Emergency management tests
    • Filling board of education vacancies
    • Updating teacher evaluation policies to conform with the new evaluation framework
    • Identification and screening of gifted students

 Provision of services via electronic delivery or telehealth:

  • Allows for services, both educational and therapeutic, to be provided via electronic delivery method or telehealth to any student who was receiving those services at the time of the March 14, 2020 Order closing school buildings.
    • This applies to students being served in public and private schools and students being served by providers under the Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship Program and the Autism Scholarship Program.
  • Prohibits licensure boards from taking disciplinary action against a license holder who provides services to a student in this manner, including limiting, suspending, revoking or refusing to issue a license solely because the license holder provided these services during the time of the school closure.
    • Applicable to individuals licensed by:
      • Ohio Speech and Hearing Professionals Board
      • Ohio Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, and Athletic Trainers Board
      • State Board of Psychology appointed under section
      • Counselor, Social Worker, and Marriage and Family Therapist Board
      • State Board of Education with respect to intervention specialists

K-12 School Testing, Accountability and Hours:

  • State-mandated K-12 student assessments for the 2019-2020 school year are eliminated.
    • This includes the Alternate Assessment for Students with Significant Cognitive Disabilities and the Ohio English Language Proficiency Assessment.
  • Ohio’s school district and school building report cards for the 2019-2020 school year are also eliminated.
  • The Ohio Department of Education is prohibited from:
    • Assigning letter grades to buildings or districts
    • Establishing rankings based on report card data
    • The Ohio Department of Education is also authorized to create “safe harbor” for schools and districts to ensure data from the 2019-2020 school year will have no effect in determining sanctions or penalties.

Third-Grade Reading Guarantee:

  • Prohibits the retention of students under the third-grade reading guarantee based solely on the student’s academic performance in reading during the 2019-2020 school year unless the student’s principal and teacher agree the student is reading below grade level and is not prepared to be promoted to fourth grade.

Achievement tests for homeschooled students:

  • Prohibits requiring that the parent of any student who was instructed at home for the 2019-2020 school year to submit to the district superintendent the results of a standardized achievement assessment administered to the student as a condition of the district allowing the student to continue to receive home instruction for the 2020-2021 school year.

 Employee evaluations:

  • Prohibits using value-added progress dimension data from the 2019-2020 school year to measure student learning for a teacher’s evaluation.
  • For employee evaluations not completed by March 14th (the date of the Health Director’s order), the law allows school boards to elect not to conduct an evaluation for the 2019-2020 school year upon determining that doing so would be “impossible” or “impracticable.” If a board elects not to evaluate an employee, the employee must be considered not to have had evaluation procedures complied with for purposes of R.C. 3319.11, including non-renewal purposes.
  • Authorizes school boards to collaborate with unions representing employees in determining whether to complete evaluations for the 2019-2020 school year.
  • Permits districts to use evaluations completed prior to March 14th in employment decisions.

 Licensure extension:

  • Any licensure issued under the Ohio Revised Code (such as drivers’ licenses, vehicle registration, teachers’ licenses, educational aide permits, and CCW licenses) that is set to expire during the period of emergency declared by Executive Order 2020-01D on March 9, 2020, remains valid until the earlier of either ninety days after the date the emergency ends or December 1, 2020. That’s unless the licensure is otherwise revoked, suspended, or subject to discipline or limitation under applicable law for reasons other than maintaining its validity during the period of the COVID-19 emergency. Also, if a person is required by law to take action to maintain the validity of a license during the period of the emergency declared by Executive Order 2020-01D, issued March 9, 2020, the person shall take that action no later than the sooner of either ninety days after the date the emergency ends or December 1, 2020.

Provisional licensure:

  • The State Board of Education may issue a one-year, nonrenewable provisional license to any individual to practice in any category, type, and level if the individual has met all requirements for the requested license except for the requirement to pass an examination prescribed by the State Board in the subject area for which application is being made.
  • Individuals receiving a provisional license under this language must take and pass the applicable subject area examinations prior to the expiration of the provisional license.

EdChoice Scholarship:

  • Scholarship renewals are allowed.
  • Prohibits any new performance-based voucher for the 2020-2021 school year, subject to certain stated exceptions.
  • Maintains 60-day window beginning April 1, 2020 for performance-based scholarships for eligible students for the 2020-2021 school year.
  • Processing performance-based EdChoice scholarships will begin on February 1, 2021 for the 2021-2022 school year.
  • Income-based EdChoice scholarships are unaffected.

 Graduation requirements:

  • Students enrolled in 12th grade in the 2019-2020 school year shall be granted a diploma in the following circumstances:
    • The student was “on track” to graduate prior to the March 14, 2020 Order, but has not met graduation requirements.
    • The student’s principal, in consultation with teachers and counselors, reviews the student’s progress toward meeting graduation requirements and determines that the student has successfully completed the curriculum in the student’s high school or the student’s individualized education program.
    • No district shall grant a diploma under these circumstances after September 30, 2020.
  • School districts with graduation requirements that exceed the state minimum requirements are authorized to utilize the state minimum requirements for the 2019-2020 school year.

Meals:

  • For the period of emergency declared March 9, 2020 but not beyond December 1, 2020, the Director of Agriculture may exempt a school from regulation as a food-processing establishment if two conditions are met:
  • The school was issued a food-service license under ORC Chapter 3717
  • The school is transporting food for purposes of Seamless Summer Option Program or Summer Food Service Program

 Open meetings:

  • Members of a public body are granted the authority, during the period of the emergency declared by Executive Order 2020-01D, issued March 9, 2020, but not beyond December 1, 2020, to hold and attend meetings and to conduct and attend hearings by teleconference, video conference, or any other similar electronic technology (“electronic means”).
    • The provisions extend to public bodies in counties, townships, municipalities at the local level as well as boards, commissions and other state-level entities.
    • Hearings are defined as administrative hearings, hearings defined by Ohio Revised Code 119.01, or other hearings at which individuals may present written or oral testimony on a matter before the public body.
  • Members attending meetings or hearings by electronic means are considered present as if they were attending in person, they are permitted to vote, and they are counted for the purpose of determining quorum.
  • Any public action taken by electronic means under these provisions has the same effect as if it were taken in an open meeting or hearing of the public body.
  • To comply with these emergency provisions, the following requirements must be met:
    • The public body must provide public access to a meeting held by electronic means or to any hearing that the public otherwise would be entitled to attend. Such access must be provided in a method similar to that which the meeting or hearing itself is being conducted.
    • Methods may include, but are not limited to, live-streaming via the internet, local radio, television, cable, public access channels, call-in information for a teleconference, or by any other similar electronic technology.
    • The public body must ensure that the public can observe and hear the discussions and deliberations of all members of the public body, regardless of how such members are participating.
    • The public body must provide notice of such meetings to the public and media that have requested such notice, and in the case of a hearing to parties required to be notified, at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting or hearing, by reasonable methods that allow for any person to determine the time, location, and manner by which the meeting or hearing will be conducted, except in emergency situations that require immediate official action.
    • In an emergency situation requiring immediate official action, the public body must immediately notify the news media that have requested notification of a meeting or the parties required to be notified of a hearing of the time, place, and purpose of the meeting or hearing.
    • When hearings are conducted via electronic means, the public body must use electronic equipment that is widely available to the general public to converse with witnesses and receive documentary testimony and physical evidence.
    • All other Open Meetings Act requirements not in conflict with these emergency provisions must be met.

Unemployment compensation:

  • Eliminates the work-search requirement during a declared public health emergency.
  • Eliminates the one-week waiting period during a declared health emergency.
  • Allows for benefits paid during a declared health emergency to be mutualized across employers.

2020 primary election:

  • The new mail-in ballot deadline is April 28, 2020.
  • No in-person voting is permitted.

The law also addresses various aspects of childcare access and state tax filing changes, among other changes.

If you have questions regarding these new measures, please reach out to a Walter | Haverfield attorney. We would be happy to assist you.