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The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly altered how we live, how we interact and how we educate Indiana's students. As districts, local associations and public health officials work toward reopening schools, ISTA is advocating on behalf of safely reopening schools and following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.
ISTA continues to follow the latest news and information on COVID-19 and its impacts to public schools, educators, students and families. On this page, we continue to share information and resources to keep families, kids and educators safe and continuing to learn and support development. Please share these resources with your network.
Advocacy on Reopening Plans
Educators and local associations are key stakeholders and can act as advocates for safely reopening schools. Through discussion with administration, local associations can offer guidance and recommendations for safe conduct in schools, in classrooms, on buses and more. The day-to-day experience of educators can inform and improve reopening plans.
In late July, ISTA President Keith Gambill sent Gov. Eric Holcomb a letter. In it Gambill states that before school buildings reopen for in-person learning, data must indicate that COVID-19 is under control in the school’s community - meaning in-person learning must wait until transmission rates in the community are both low and declining over at least the past two weeks as measured by key indicators such as infection rates, hospitalization rates and hospital capacity. Read more.
Following requests from ISTA, the Indiana State Department of Health has released color-coded recommendations based on community spread to assist local officials and districts in determining appropriate school operations.
If you believe your district’s plan is unsafe, please reach out to your local president or ISTA UniServ Director.
On July 22, Gov. Holcomb announced a mask mandate for grades 3 - 12 and issued additional guidance for schools. ISTA President Keith Gambill released a statement in response.
In mid-June, ISTA President Keith Gambill sent Gov. Eric Holcomb a letter expressing ISTA member concerns about school reopening plans. On July 14, Gambill and ISTA members met with the governor to discuss those concerns. View a full review of the conversation with the governor on Facebook.
ISTA hosted a virtual conversation on July 29 with panelists including health and medical experts who offered practical guidance for educators on how to address safety concerns around COVID-19 in their schools, classrooms, buses and more.
ISTA hosted a virtual conversation on July 23. ISTA Legal Counsel Eric Hylton, UniServ staff and local leaders discussed educator rights and how to organize in your local to have a say in your district's reopening plans.
Resources on Reopening
ISTA continues to release information local associations can use to advocate for their kids, schools and communities. ISTA hosted a webinar on discussion July 8. The Indiana Department of Education has created a re-entry resources hub.
These resources are date stamped. With the rapidly changing situation, connect with your UniServ Director for the latest information.
Frequently Asked Questions
ISTA represents nearly 40,000 educators across Indiana. In these uncertain times, we have compiled the most frequently asked questions from educators on the impact of COVID-19 on schools. If you have a question, contact your UniServ Director.
What do school corporations have to discuss before teachers or students return to school?
Pursuant to IC 20-29-6-7(9), school corporations must discuss “safety issues for students and employees in the workplace.” Before bringing teachers, and possibly students, into schools to do this work, school corporations must discuss these safety issues with local associations which would include whether these requested activities are “essential functions” given the governor’s order to close schools for safety reasons.
ISTA hosted a webinar on July 8 to review disscussable items and what to emphasize during the pandemic and while reviewing re-entry plans. Safety information and re-entry planning changes rapidly. Check with your UniServ Director for the most up-to-date information.
What happens if a child in your classroom refuses to wear a mask (and you are unable to convince the child to wear a mask) and spreads COVID-19?
This should be addressed at discussion.
Questions to ask: How will this be enforced? Do we send the students to the office?
What happens if a parent refuses to have their child wear a mask? Can they attend school?
This should be addressed at discussion.
Questions to ask: How is the district going to handle parents who refuse to have their child wear a mask? Will they be allowed in the building? Will parents be informed of the policy beforehand?
Can a parent sue the teacher if they do not want their child to wear a mask, and the teacher has the child wear a mask?
The teachers would not be held responsible for enforcing a district directive.
Must teachers be paid while schools are closed?
Yes, I.C. 20-28-9-15 requires teachers to be paid if a school is ordered to be closed by the school corporation or health authorities, or if school cannot be conducted through no fault of the teacher. As a result, even if school is closed for the remainder of the school year, teachers will continue to be paid their regular salary.
Can a school corporation require teachers to make up missed days over the summer?
The Indiana Court of Appeals has held that teachers can only be required to make up missed student days if the students are also required to make up the days. If days are waived, teachers do not have to make up the days. (South Newton School Corporation v. South Newton Classroom Teachers Association, 762 N.E.2d 115 (Ind. Ct. App. 2001))
Can a school corporation require teachers to work on days students are not in school?
Yes. Teachers can be required to prepare materials at home for E-learning or do other assignments as given by the school corporation.
Are classified employees required to be paid when days are waived for students?
No, but a school board can approve payments for classified employees even if they do not work and not be subjected to ghost employment charges.
If an employee is on FMLA leave, can a school corporation require the employee to work from home during FMLA leave?
Because of the public health emergency, can school boards hold their meetings in private?
No, but limits can be made on the number of members of the public who can attend. Additionally, the Public Access Counselor has provided flexibility for board members to attend remotely.
What if my teaching license is set to expire during the Coronavirus stay-at-home order?
UPDATE: Expiring teacher licenses will be extended through September 1, 2020.
If you have specific questions about your teaching license contact Susie Langston, license evaluator, Indiana Department of Education at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What if my CPR certification is nearing expiration?
The IDOE has announced that the American Heart Association and the American Red Cross have authorized the extension of CPR certifications issued by their organizations. The IDOE will honor the extensions outlined in this document.
Will students have to repeat the same grade again?
Freshman, sophomores and juniors will need to complete their credit requirements, and it will be local schools’ decision on whether that credit has been earned.
Can teachers be required to work on days when student instruction is waived?
The governor has closed schools for the remainder of the 2019 – 20 school year, but instruction continues. He has provided 20 waiver days so that students are only required to attend school (via in person or e-learning) for 160 days. These waivers apply to students.
As for teachers, they generally have 185 day teacher contracts. The governor has not and cannot interfere with these contracts. As a result, if a day that is waived for students is one of the 185 teacher contract days, a school can make a teacher work that day. However, if a school does not make a teacher work on a student waiver day, the school cannot make a teacher work past contracted days to make up that day. The school either needs to make the teacher work on the regularly scheduled contract day that is waived for students, or not at all.
If a school says it does not plan to use any waiver days and it intends to have its students make up the missed days, teachers get paid now and have to work the made up days later with no additional pay. But, if schools have the teachers work now on days that are canceled for students, to be made up later, they would have to pay the teachers additional money for the make-up days.
Can teachers be required to work the total number of contract days even though the Governor has waived 20 student instructional days?
Yes. Teachers may be required to work on regularly scheduled student instructional days that have been waived by the state. While schools must meet the student instructional day requirements established in the governor’s Executive Order (provide 160 student instructional days or at least 20 days of remote instruction between April 2, 2020, and the end of the school year), schools may choose to enforce individual teacher contract obligations that require teachers to work, for example, 182 days in a school year. Thus, if a school will fulfill the 160-day student instructional time requirement by May 15, 2020, teachers may still be required to work on any remaining scheduled contract days even though students are not present.
School administrators should consult with local counsel on this issue. Also, depending on any decision made with respect to teacher days, there may be a duty to discuss the issue with the exclusive representative as the decision impacts hours.
Will a teacher presently on sick leave be required to use sick days for the remainder of the school year if the school year ends in early May and the remaining days are waived?
In the 1985 case Van Camp v. Oak Hill United School Corporation, a teacher became ill over Christmas break but had already used all available paid leave days. On the evening of Jan. 6, the teacher called the school principal and told him she could not work the next day and would need to take an unpaid day. On the morning of Jan. 7, schools were cancelled because of snow. However, a day’s pay was still deducted from the teacher.
After hearing arguments from both sides, the court in Oak Hill held that the Indiana school closing statute [I.C. 20-28-9-15] “neither speaks of causation with respect to a teacher’s absence nor includes a precondition of teacher availability,” and that the only questions posed by state statute are “whether school was in fact closed, and, if so, whether it was the fault of the corporation’s teachers.” Accordingly, the school corporation was required to pay “regular payments” due Van Camp on the snow day in question.
We believe we have an argument to make that teachers who are currently out on sick leave should not have sick days deducted for days that are waived for students and on which teachers are not otherwise expected to do work. For a school that ends the school year for students and teachers in early May, Oak Hill supports an argument that teachers on sick leave should not be required to use sick days. Similarly, this argument could also apply to teachers who are using paid days for maternity leave. Although Oak Hill does not definitively answer our question here, it does support an argument that sick days should not be charged to teachers on sick leave for days that are waived for both students and teachers.
What if teachers are being asked to come into school buildings for tasks like cleaning out student lockers?
Under the Governor’s Executive Order 20-08, teachers should only be coming into school buildings for the purpose of facilitating distance learning and performing essential functions. Although ISTA does not believe cleaning out student lockers is an essential function, IDOE has stated that this is a local decision. Therefore, local associations should push back on safety issues through the discussion process.
State Government Resources
To prepare for possible community transmission of COVID-19, the most important thing for schools to do now is plan and prepare. As the global outbreak evolves, schools should prepare for the possibility of community-level outbreaks.
National Education Association Resources
The National Education Association (NEA) is providing advocacy on the federal level as Congress and federal agencies determine how to address impacts of COVID-19. The NEA has also collected information from across the federal government and resources to help you talk to students about what is happening.
Training & Professional Development
Educators are life-long learners. During this crisis, many training and professional development opportunities have been postponed or canceled. Here are resources for educators looking to access quality, peer-reviewed training and professional development.
With the widespread impacts of Coronavirus, numerous organizations, education outlets, partners and others are releasing information. ISTA will continue to share information received.