Coronavirus and School Closures: FAQ for Teachers
Current school closures are unlike anything we in Connecticut have experienced in our lifetimes. You understandably have many questions about what school closures mean for you and your students, and here at CEA, we are compiling the answers to some of your most pressing questions.
We will be answering more questions as more information becomes available. Subscribe to updates from BlogCEA to stay up to date
Q: How long will schools be closed?
A: Governor Lamont has closed Connecticut schools through May 20 and said it is likely that they may remain closed until the fall. At this time, school is not canceled for the remainder of the school year in Connecticut. Commissioner of Education Miguel Cardona recently said, “We hope to welcome students back, but at this point we are taking precautions, and if we have to extend class cancellations, we will.”
Q: Will districts have to make up days? Will we be in school until June 30?
A: Governor Lamont issued an executive order waiving the 180-day requirement for school districts, meaning that the last day of the school year may be what each district had previously planned prior to closing due to coronavirus, unless the district chooses to add days to make up for lost instructional days.
Q: Can administrators require teachers to go to school buildings and attend group meetings during this crisis?
A: Teachers are considered "essential" workers per Governor Lamont's executive order, and thus not covered by the order to stay home. However, educators do still need to follow social distancing protocols. Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona has stated, "While total school closures have not happened, we are also encouraging work from home as much as possible and little to no person-to-person contact in our schools."
***If your administrators are asking you to go to school for group meetings, or if you feel uncomfortable going into school for any reason, please contact your local president and UniServ Rep. You can also email your questions and concerns to CEA at firstname.lastname@example.org
Q: Are schools required to take part in distance learning?
A: Prior to the governor waiving the 180-day requirement, many schools, expecting to be out for only two weeks, sent students home with only supplemental activities. Since the waiver is now in effect, and the closures are likely to extend for at least several weeks, the State Department of Education has asked districts to shift to thinking about distance learning. Districts retain the authority to devise plans that best meet the needs of their students, and the State Department of Education is offering districts resources to support remote learning, such as this guide. NEA offers these resources to districts that have the capability to engage in online learning. Follow the lead of your district (which should first be in touch with your local union to reach agreement on expectations) as to what kinds of activities they expect you to plan and how they expect you to be in contact with students and parents. If any conversations with families take place over the phone, use *67 first to block your phone number.
Q: Will teacher evaluation requirements be waived?
A: Yes, on March 25, Connecticut Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona waived all components of the Educator Evaluation and Support Plan (EESP), effective immediately for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. The commissioner encouraged educators to continue professional learning and career development opportunities to the greatest extent possible.
Q: What should I do if my certification is about to expire?
A: Effective immediately, the Bureau of Educator Standards and Certification will extend the expiration date of all Initial and Provisional Certificates (including Interim) and 5-Year Coaching Permits with expiration dates between 3/15/20 and 12/31/20 for 1-year from the date of original expiration.
This extension does not apply to permits and/or authorizations such as 90-Day Certificates, Long Term Substitute Authorizations, Durational Shortage Area Permits (DSAP), Charter School Educator Permits and Emergency Coaching Permits, nor does it apply to Resident Educator Certificates. Educators currently serving under any of the aforementioned permits/authorizations will be able to seek renewal at the time of expiration in accordance with existing policy and procedures.
Educators may continue to renew Professional Educator Certificates online or by mail at no cost to the applicant, in accordance with existing policy and procedures. Additionally, 5-Year Coaching Permit holders are reminded it is their professional responsibility to maintain current First Aid and CPR certifications.
Over the coming weeks, the Bureau of Educator Standards and Certification will automatically update new expiration dates within the Connecticut Educator Certification System (CECS) and will print and mail new certificates to those educators impacted by the change.
Q: As a beginning teacher, must I still complete the TEAM requirements?
A: While TEAM has an additional year built into the program for those who may be unable to meet their expected completion deadline, the State Department of Education has made additional accommodations in light of current circumstances. Deadlines for all teachers currently participating in TEAM are as follows:
- 9/1/2020 deadlines dates will be extended to 2/15/2021 of the following year
- 2/15/2021 deadline dates will be extended to 9/1/2021
These changes should allow teachers the time they need to complete all of their requirements. While schools are closed, teachers and mentors may continue to work together virtually. Beginning teachers may need the emotional support of their mentors as they navigate the new challenges of planning and delivering distance learning. While teachers may continue to work on their modules where it makes sense, with the extended deadlines, it is not required that modules be completed during this time.
Q: How can students who usually receive free or reduced-price lunch access meals during school closures?
A: Check the website of your school district or municipality. Many districts are making breakfasts and lunches available for students to pick up at school to take home at specified times, and a few districts also have specific dropoff locations for meals. Anyone in the household age 18 or under can receive the meals, not just school-aged children. Usually only one child per household must be present for the family to receive meals. Most districts are only providing meals to students (and younger siblings) who attend school in that particular district, but some others are providing community-wide emergency meals to children without residency restrictions.
Q: Will students be expected to take federally mandated assessments if they return to school this spring?
A: The U.S. Department of Education has waived standardized testing requirements for the current school year for students in elementary school through high school. The department says it will provide relief from federally mandated testing requirements to any state requesting a waiver due to the public health crisis. Governor Lamont and Education Commissioner Cardona have already submitted a request for a waiver, so no Connecticut students will be required to take SBAC assessments, SATs, or NGSS assessments. The State Department of Education is working closely with The College Board to determine the best course of action to take in regard to the administration of the SAT, since the test plays an important role in high school students’ college acceptance, placement, and entrance.
Q: Many companies are giving away free teaching resources online. Am I allowed use them?
A: If the resource is something you can legally download and use (such as a worksheet) and you are following your district’s remote learning procedures, you are probably okay, but any websites that require students to log in, have accounts, or otherwise do things online need to be approved by your district (as always). PA 16-189 (the student data privacy law) is still in effect. If you use your own resources or sites that aren’t approved, you may be liable if something goes wrong. Stick with district-approved resources, and if you find something new, share it with your administrator and you may be able to get it approved. The Connecticut Education Network is the state’s office for education technology. Their website includes a portal for educators, which provides a list of technology tools that meet the state’s data privacy requirements. Email registration is required at https://app.learnplatform.com/new/tools.
Q: Can I use copyrighted materials in my online instructions?
A: When selecting materials to use in online instruction, you must adhere to all copyright laws. Members should consider copyright issues in online instruction just as they would in face-to-face instruction. While a ‘fair use exception’ allows copyrighted materials to be used without permission in many educational circumstances, this allowance is not absolute. Good information for public school teachers, including examples of what qualifies as fair use, is available from the Library of Congress.
Q: I don’t have much experience with the online tools my district is now expecting me to use to teach or communicate with students. What should I do?
A: Training exists online for many of the sites commonly used by schools, but when in doubt, ask your district for help. They won’t know the need exists for support unless you speak up.
Q: Are parents permitted to observe their children in the classroom?
A: The Family Educational Right and Privacy Act (FERPA) does not specifically prohibit a parent or professional working with the parent from observing the parent's child in the classroom. Further, FERPA does not protect the confidentiality of information in general; rather, the law applies to the disclosure of tangible records as well as information derived from tangible records—the key words there being “tangible records.”
Q: Are online learning and livestreaming—where everyone can see each other—protected by FERPA?
A: Although it is CEA’s legal opinion that online educational services and online streaming are not FERPA protected, teachers should nevertheless strictly adhere to the guidance given by their administrators regarding the use of video and distance learning that includes virtual and/or live broadcasts. Teachers are further advised that all Board policies—for example, policies regarding social media and acceptable use—remain in effect unless otherwise stated.
Absent further information or updates from the U.S. Department of Education on these issues, this would be CEA’s present guidance in the changing landscape.
Q: Are the YouTube videos I create to supplement my students' online learning considered private?
A: When you create a YouTube video you have the option to make it public, private, or unlisted.
- Public is the default setting, and anybody using YouTube can see your video
- Private means the video can be viewed only by those with YouTube accounts that the originator invites to view their video
- Unlisted means your video will not come up in search results and can be seen only by those with a link to the video
Even if you create a private video, it could still be made public if someone in your private group shares it. So, the general rule of thought is to always assume your materials are public and could be seen by others.
Q: Can teachers’ lessons be recorded by a parent?
A: Teachers can give a disclaimer that their lessons cannot be recorded, but we know that parents may do so anyway and that teachers should not expect a right of privacy in their classrooms, either physical or virtual. A teacher’s lesson is not an educational record of a child that would be protected under FERPA.
Q: What if teachers witness possible abuse on a child’s camera feed?
A: If teachers witness something on the other end of the camera that could reasonably be considered abuse or neglect of a child, we advise them to report it. Virtual classrooms are to be regarded the same as physical classrooms for this purpose and many others, and since teachers are mandated reporters, they are advised to call the DCF hotline.
Q: Will Board of Education meetings still be held to pass town education budgets and can teachers participate?
A: Governor Lamont issued an Executive Order suspending all in-person meeting and proceedings (including BOE, town council, and other municipal-type meetings) and requiring any necessary meetings or proceedings to be held remotely, by conference call, video conference, or other technology provided that
- the public has the ability to view or listen in real time, by telephone, video, or other technology;
- any such meeting is recorded or transcribed, then posted online within 7 days and made available;
- the required notice and agenda for the meeting or proceeding is posted on the municipality’s website including information about how the meeting will be conducted and how the public can access it;
- any materials relevant to matters on the agenda shall be posted online and accessible prior to, during, and after the meeting; and,
- all speakers taking part in the meeting or proceeding shall clearly state their name and title, before speaking.
CEA encourages members to continue to contact their municipal elected officials to advocate for education funding and support for public education in our towns. If you need assistance in this, or believe that your local governing body appears to be violating the Executive Order, please contact your local president or UniServ Rep or email us at email@example.com.
Q: Am I protected if I get sued?
A: Yes, Connecticut has a statute indemnifying teachers in the event they are sued. Conn. Gen. Stat. §10-235 specifically states that Boards of Education “shall protect and save harmless” any teacher from “financial loss and expense, including legal fees and costs” as long as the teacher was acting: 1) in discharge of his/her duties; or 2) within the scope of employment; or 3) under the direction of the Board of Education. The only exception are actions deemed “wanton, reckless, or malicious.”
Q: If I use my own technology will my device be subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)?
A: Yes, but that has always been the case. Emails, texts, etc., (that relate to school business) that are sent or received or created on your personal technology are subject to disclosure pursuant to FOIA. However, that does not give a Board of Education license to search your device for anything or everything. Such searches are subject to the constitutional protections concerning search and seizure laws.
Q: What happens if I get sick?
A: Answers to your questions regarding coverage under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
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Q: How will student grading be affected by the switch to distance learning?
A: While local and regional boards of education maintain discretion over grading policies, the Connecticut State Department of Education is encouraging districts to focus priorities on student engagement and learning. The SDE recommends that schools adopt a locally guided pass/fail protocol while providing continued educational opportunities. “Pass” markings confirm that students satisfactorily completed the necessary credits pursuant to the Connecticut General Statutes, 10-221a.
The SDE has identified the following potential options for pass/fail grading policies:
Standard Pass/Fail: The traditional pass/fail standard, similar to that offered by many colleges, graduate schools, and high schools.
Pass/Incomplete: This standard would apply to students in grades 9, 10, and 11. Students who are unable to complete their online assignments would have a district-determined timeline to complete their work and receive either a pass or fail grade. This option supports:
- Students without adequate access to technology
- Students with IEPs in need of direct support or additional resources
- English learners
- Students who may need counseling or mental health services that they have not received at home
- Students who are sick or caring for a family member or dealing with the trauma of loss resulting from the pandemic
- Disengaged students who could regain their agency, with a second chance and counseling, and attain a passing grade and credit
Pass with Distinction: In some cases, districts may wish to recognize students who worked at a very high academic level during this extraordinary time and celebrate their efforts with a designation of “Pass with Distinction.”
Q: Are there special considerations for student transcripts and college/postsecondary recommendations?
A: The SDE recommends that districts modify transcripts to provide adequate context about the disruption caused by COVID-19 and the resulting change in grading for the period after March 1, 2020.
Districts should also use recommendations to supplement pass/fail protocols and share information with colleges, vocational programs, and other postsecondary opportunities concerning students’ academic strengths and interests, personal qualities, roles in the school community, extracurricular accomplishments, and other qualitative assessments of their potential contribution to a school or program.
Q: Will a pass/fail protocol impact student athletes?
A: In communication with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the commitment was made that a pass/fail or pass/incomplete will not have a negative impact on student athletes.
Q: What are the impacts on students’ GPA, college admissions, and financial aid?
A: The Connecticut SDE has worked closely with its partners in higher education to reach consensus on students applying to or enrolling in Connecticut colleges and universities. Connecticut’s public and private institutions of higher education will accept the following principles. Note that these may not necessarily reflect the policies for public and private colleges outside of Connecticut.
- Pass/fail grades will be accepted for Connecticut high school students taught through distance learning for the semesters in which in-school classes are cancelled.
- For the 2019-2020 school year, the student grade point average (GPA) will be calculated based on performance while students were participating in in-school classes through the time when in-school classes were canceled during March 2020.
- For current seniors, a student’s GPA will include grades earned through December 2019. Underclassmen GPAs will be calculated based on grades earned through December 2019, and those earned beginning when classes resume for the 2020-2021 school year.
- For a year-long course, a student’s GPA will include the fall term grade for the course.
- Colleges and universities in Connecticut will accept electronically certified transcripts from districts for newly enrolled freshmen and will extend the deadline for receipt of officially certified transcripts.
- Understanding that families in Connecticut may have suffered a negative financial impact from COVID-19, colleges and universities in Connecticut will work with families whose ability to pay for higher education has changed in order to determine whether they are eligible for additional financial aid and what state, federal, and institutional resourcesmay be available to help.
Q: What happens to graduation credits when a district is unable to provide a particular course through distance learning or must depart from the planned curriculum?
A: While the SDE recommends that local and regional boards of education continue their program of instruction, the agency understands that exceptional circumstances may pose a challenge. Pursuant to Governor Lamont’s Executive Order 7C, the SDE will allow districts to grant students the necessary credits for graduation even where a course or prescribed course of student may not be consistent with the Connecticut General Statutes, Section 10-16b or Section 10-221a(b). In exercising local discretion, the SDE urges boards of education to consider the existing flexibilities in awarding non-seat time credit that are currently available in C.G.S. Section 10-221a (f) and (g), including the attainment of credits through a successful demonstration of mastery, cross-curricular graduation requirements, and virtual learning online coursework.
Q: What is the status of graduation ceremonies?
A: Graduation ceremonies are a local decision; however, the SDE emphasizes the importance of recognizing student achievement upon graduation. All decisions about graduation ceremonies should be made by consulting Governor Lamont’s emergency declarations in collaboration with local health officials.
Q: What happens to my hearing if I receive a termination notice?
A: Normally, termination hearings for tenured teachers would be conducted in person. Because of social distancing guidelines in place to protect public health, however, local and regional boards of education may now provide teachers with notice of a potential termination via email. As usual, teachers may request a hearing within 10 days of receiving such notice and may do so via email to both their superintendent and board chair. In those cases where a teacher requests a hearing, as well as in currently pending termination hearings, the board must now extend all statutory and regulatory time requirements related to the termination hearing by 45 calendar days. SDE has granted teachers this extension after receiving input from CEA’s Member Legal Services team.
Q: What about nonrenewal notice deadlines?
A: Districts still must notify teachers by May 1 if they are planning to nonrenew them at the end of this school year. But they have also been given additional flexibility to instead extend a teacher’s probationary period by up to one full year to allow time for a more fully informed decision about non-renewal. The deadline for this notice is May 1 as well, and districts are encouraged to work with their local union to determine the length of the extension. When a teacher requests a hearing after receiving notice of nonrenewal, a 90-day extension of the hearing timelines may be granted by the board, local hearing officer, or subcommittee.
For additional guidance and revised timelines related to nonrenewals, see the State Board of Education’s guidance on temporary flexibilities.
Q: How is student attendance to be tracked and reported while in-school instruction is suspended?
A: School districts must make all reasonable efforts to have all students participate as fully as possible in available continued education opportunities. Recognizing that tracking student attendance may be problematic, however, the SDE will treat a student’s attendance record as it was on the school day before classes were canceled (i.e., March 20, 2020), supplemented by the student’s attendance record if in-person school classes resume before the district’s scheduled closing date in June.
Districts may ask teachers and support staff to connect with all students to maintain relationships and assist with issues and concerns related to assignments. These connections should be documented and tracked as appropriate, and the SDE recommends that teachers have the option or referring a student who is exhibiting inadequate engagement to a school or district team responsible for school attendance.