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Hot Policy Topic: Coronavirus (COVID-19) Information and Resources for Schools (Updated April 3, 2020)

The World Health Organization has deemed Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) to be a pandemic. As the situation continues to evolve and change, the WASB is compiling information of greatest pertinence to Wisconsin school districts.

Check back for updates and/or watch your email for updates from the WASB. As the situation continues to evolve, the WASB will issue regular communications to all members highlighting the most recent updates to this page as well as related legislative developments.

WASB Legal Update Recorded Webinars

Thursday, April 2 Video Update

[https://youtu.be/qdUj4Aowaso]

In this webinar, WASB attorneys discuss holding virtual meetings


Wednesday, April 1 Video Update

[https://youtu.be/oxWvm6t0QY0]

In this webinar, WASB attorneys discuss the employer-provided leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.


Thursday, March 26 Video Update

[https://youtu.be/ltctpuyX5ak]

Clips by Topic from March 26 Update:


Friday, March 20 Video Update

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zgW-0t0ckQ]

Clips by Topic from March 20 Update:


Tuesday, March 17 Video Update

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYPhz93i314]

In this webinar, WASB attorneys provide an update regarding COVID-19 and orient viewers to the WASB COVID-19 resource page.


Friday, March 13 Video Update

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vIrD6Hh-m6Q]

In this webinar, WASB attorneys discuss common employment questions and address governance issues near the end of the webinar.

Statewide School Closure and Other Emergency Orders
  • At the direction of Gov. Tony Evers, Andrea Palm, secretary of the Department of Health Services issued emergency orders (including the most recent order Emergency Order #12) for the closure of all public and private Wisconsin schools for purposes of student instruction and extracurricular activities, except for facilitating distance learning and virtual learning, beginning at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, March 18 and remaining in effect until 8 a.m. on Friday, April 24, or until a superseding order is issued. The original order of the governor called for an anticipated reopening of the public and private schools on April 6.
  • Secretary Andrea Palm issued an emergency “stay at home” order on March 24, at the direction of Gov. Evers, ordering all individuals present within the state to stay home or at their place of residence, except for specific functions and activities defined in the order. This order became effective at 8 a.m. on Wednesday March 25 and will remain in effect until 8 a.m. on Friday, April 24, or until a superseding order is issued. The order specifically states that public schools may be used for facilitating distance learning or virtual learning and may also be used for Essential Government Functions (as defined in the order) and food distribution. This order supersedes the previous emergency order addressing mass gatherings of 10 people or more and mass gatherings of less than 10 people (Emergency Order #5).
    • Refer to district emergency school closing policies for information on how school closings are handled in the district, including information related to school district staff expectations. Also refer to relevant information included in district Employee Handbooks.
  • Child Care Settings – School districts that offer child care services or allow child care providers to use school facilities for such purposes should be aware of a new emergency order issued by Secretary Palm that restricts the size of child care settings beginning at 8 a.m. on Thursday, March 19 and remaining in effect for the duration of the public health emergency or until a superseding order is issued. According to the order, child care settings may not operate with more than 10 staff present at a time and may not operate with more than 50 children present at a time. “Child care setting” means all licensed and certified child care providers caring for any age or ages of children up to 18 years of age. “Staff” means any paid or unpaid adult rendering services or providing support to the function of a child care setting. According to a new emergency order issued by Secretary Palm on March 24 child care settings shall prioritize care for families as: (1) Tier 1 – employees, contractors, and other support staff working in health care; (2) Tier 2 – employees, contractors, and other staff in vital areas including but not limited to military; long term care; residential care; pharmacies; child care; child welfare; government operations; public safety and critical infrastructure such as sanitation, transportation, utilities, telecommunications; grocery and food services; supply chain operations; and other sectors as determined by the secretary of the Department of Children and Families. Refer to Gov. Evers’ memo addressing “Child Care Setting Restriction Frequently Asked Questions” (issued March 18).
Everyday Preventive Actions

Public health officials recommend individuals take Everyday Preventive Actions to help stop the spread of germs and prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, including:

 

Related School District Policies/Procedures/Plans

School officials can help control the spread of respiratory viruses and other communicable diseases by making employees, students and parents aware of Related School District Policies, Procedures and Plans and making sure that they are followed.

Continuity of Learning

School districts need to plan how they will provide students with options to continue learning during the period of school closure due to the coronavirus.

  • State Superintendent of Public Instruction Carolyn Stanford Taylor issued a letter regarding COVID-19 on March 31 stating that because the situation continues to evolve, it is difficult to provide a certain date schools will reopen. In the absence of certainty around school reopening, the state superintendent encourages districts “to do long-range planning as if students will not be back in school for the rest of the school year.”
  • Sample Resolutions for Requesting State Law Requirement Waivers – The DPI has authority under section 118.38 of state statutes to grant waivers to school districts from requirements in Chapters 115 to 121 of the state statutes. WASB sample resolutions relating to requests for waivers of school district requirements under section 118.38 (such as a waiver of the minimum hours of direct instruction) are provided below. A school board may be able to use one of these samples to help organize and document the board’s approval of any waiver requests. Note that DPI offers a simplified online waiver submission process for certain waiver requests.
    • Sample 1 — MS Word versionPDF version (shorter sample with less background detail; last revised 3/26/20)
    • Sample 2 — MS Word versionPDF version (longer sample with more background detail about the public health emergency that is the reason behind the waiver requests; last revised 3/26/20)
    • School boards are reminded that they will need to hold a public hearing, as per state law (section 118.38(1)(b) of the state statutes) and document the date of the public hearing to receive a waiver from any state law requirement. The public hearing can be virtual or by teleconference. The DPI guidance related to public hearings for requesting waivers reminds districts to remain attentive to Open Meetings Law concerns, as further covered in guidance issued by the Wisconsin Department of Justice (see DOJ’s March 16 advisory and a related supplement issued on March 21).
  • “District Planning and Implementation Resources for Continuity of Learning” can be found on the DPI’s website. Resources include:
    • Limited Technology Options for Remote Learning information, which was issued on March 31, that includes information on low-technology and community opportunities to support at-home learning (e.g., possible internet options, limited bandwidth) and alternative learning options. One such alternative learning option is for students to tune in to local broadcast networks for educational television and for teachers to create lessons that may coincide with the learning. The DPI has partnered with PBS Wisconsin and Milwaukee PBS to support at-home learning for students and families by broadcasting a new weekday television schedule of programming with digital resources that connect to Wisconsin’s state academic standards. PBS Wisconsin is dedicating the 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. daytime weekday schedule on The Wisconsin Channel, or PBS Wisconsin 2, and Milwaukee PBS is dedicating the 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daytime weekday schedule on WMVT 36.1 to educational programming, including specific blocks of time for pre-K through 12 grade levels and specific subject areas, including English language arts, social studies, science and math.
    • DPI’s Offers for Services and Resources for Schools During COVID-19, which include information on free or reduced-price Internet and portable access offers around Wisconsin, resources for students and families, and resources for teachers and schools.
    • The new Learning During COVID-19 and Learning Every Day, Everywhere resources that were issued on March 31 to be shared with learners, educators, caregivers and families.
  • Equity and Access – It is important for school districts to keep in mind equity and access issues when planning and providing for continuity of learning during this time of the pandemic. According to the DPI, making purposeful decisions about how to leverage resources to support learning will help learners and caregivers participate in remote learning opportunities. In considering equity and access in a remote learning environment, DPI suggests that districts consider the following questions: (1) Are there flexible schedules, goals and structures for learning?; (2) Are there co-constructed learning experiences?; and (3) Are everyday learning experiences reflected? Additional information on equity and access may be found in DPI’s Considerations for Teaching and Learning during COVID-19”, which were issued on March 31.
  • Student Record Information and Privacy – Refer to U.S. Department of Education’s Student Privacy Policy Office FERPA and the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Resources, which include FAQ’s and information related to virtual learning. Refer to the recording of the Student Privacy Policy Office’s March 30 webinar entitled “FERPA & Virtual Learning During COVID-19” which, among other things, addresses commonly asked questions related to the challenges of complying with student privacy laws like the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) during this time and presents a series of scenarios which highlight privacy best practices and considerations when adopting distance learning approaches.
  • Student Assessment Information – The DPI received approval from the U.S. Department of Education on March 23 to implement waivers for the federal assessment and accountability requirements in Section 1111 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. All federal assessment and accountability requirements are waived for the state and all Wisconsin school districts immediately for the 2019-20 school year. The DPI continues to work with Gov. Evers’ office and the state Legislature to address the state statutory requirements of testing and accountability. According to information found on the DPI’s COVID-19 Assessment Related Updates webpage, “Due to school closures and the evolving COVID situation, it is not possible to administer the statewide assessments for the 2019-20 school year.”
  • Instructional Hours – The DPI will waive the minimum number of hours of direct instruction required by state law for any school district that requests the DPI to do so due to this ongoing public health emergency. On March 21, Gov. Tony Evers issued an emergency order, which suspended a portion of the administrative code related to requesting waivers of instructional hours [PI 8.01(4)(b)1 through 7 and (c)]. The DPI is now able to approve instructional hour waiver requests following district submission of a simple form.
  • Student Attendance Reporting – According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, the DPI will not be requiring school districts to report student attendance during the period of time schools are closed for this public health emergency. Locally, if a district chooses to continue to take student attendance, it has the latitude to determine how to do so, but that information will not need to be reported to the DPI.
  • High School Graduation Requirements, including Civics Test Requirement – Information on how high school seniors who have not yet passed the civics test required for high school graduation can meet the requirement can be found on DPI’s website. If there are extenuating circumstances during this ongoing public health emergency that prohibit students’ ability to graduate in 2020 because they have not passed the civics graduation requirement, the district may request a waiver from this state law requirement using a special DPI waiver request form.According to the DPI, school boards could request a waiver from the state-required high school graduation (credit) requirements for those students who were on track with current coursework for them to have completed all state-required high school graduation requirements had the school year not been suspended. School boards could request this waiver through the DPI in accordance with information outlined on the DPI’s website. Additional information regarding meeting graduation requirements during this current public health emergency can be found in a March 26 DPI document entitled “Graduation Requirements, Grading and Class Promotion.”
  • Advanced Placement (AP) Exams – The College Board has announced special 2019-20 AP exam administration procedures that will allow students to take their AP exams. The College Board is in the process of developing secure 45-minute, online, free-response exams for each course that will focus on content that most schools were able to complete by early March. Students will be able to take their AP exams on any device they have access to – computer, tablet or smartphone. They will also have the option to write their responses by hand and provide a photo. The College Board recognizes that not all students have access to the internet or a device and is working on solutions to help students get what they need to show their best work. According to the College Board, colleges supports this solution and are committed to ensuring that AP students receive the credit they have worked to earn.
  • Educator Effectiveness Evaluations – School districts are required by state law and implementing administrative rules to (1) evaluate all licensed school personnel in their “first year of employment and, at least, every third year thereafter” and (2) use the Wisconsin Educator Effectiveness System to meet the evaluation requirements for principals and teachers. Due to COVID-19, the DPI recognizes school and district staff may struggle to complete the Educator Effectiveness process for 2019-20 Summary Year educators. The DPI has provided specific guidance to support school districts who wish to complete the Educator Effectiveness Cycle for educators in their Summary Year of 2019-20. If it is not possible to do so, the DPI will waive those requirements, upon completion of a special waiver form.
Mental Health Support
  • Refer to DPI’s Student Services/Prevention and Wellness (SSPW) Team COVID-19 Information for Student Services, which include online training resources and information related to school counseling, school psychology, school social work and school health services. In addition, DPI’s SSPW Team is offering weekly online webinars on supporting student mental health during school closures. These webinars will occur Thursdays at 8 a.m. through April 30 and the resources connected to these webinars, including webinar recordings, are available via DPI’s website.
  • Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) Coronavirus Resources, which include social and emotional learning resources for educators, parents and caregivers. CASEL has created a new CASEL Cares Initiative Webinar Series that is intended to help everyone – children, teachers, parents and other adults alike – attend to the social and emotional needs that arise during this challenging time dealing with the pandemic and the changes it is making in their lives. The webinars are being recorded and are available to access via CASEL’s website.
  • DPI’s School Mental Health Resources
  • Gov. Evers announced the launching of the Department of Health Services’ Resilient Wisconsin website on April 3 to provide practical tools and sources of support that can help everyone strengthen their resilience during times of stress so that they can take care of themselves and those around them during COVID-19 and beyond.
Board Governance/Open Meetings Law
  • Sample Resolutions for Requesting State Law Waivers – WASB sample resolutions relating to requests for waivers of school district requirements under section 118.38 of the state statutes (such as a waiver of the the minimum hours of direct instructions). A school board may be able to use one of these samples to help organize and document the board’s approval of any waiver requests. Note that DPI offers a simplified online waiver submission process for certain waiver requests.
    • Sample 1 — MS Word versionPDF version (shorter sample with less background detail; last revised 3/26/20)
    • Sample 2 — MS Word version; PDF version (longer sample with more background detail about the public health emergency that is the reason behind the waiver requests; last revised 3/26/20)

School boards are reminded that they will need to hold a public hearing, as per state law (section 118.38(1)(b) of the state statutes) and document the date of the public hearing to receive a waiver from any state law requirement. The public hearing can be virtual or by teleconference. The DPI guidance related to public hearings for requesting waivers reminds districts to remain attentive to Open Meetings Law concerns, as further covered in guidance issued by the Wisconsin Department of Justice (see DOJ’s March 16 advisory and a related supplement issued on March 21).

Spring Elections
  • Polling Places:  The Wisconsin Elections Commission has taken action on COVID-19 Issues for April 7 and May 12 Elections, including the following action that is relevant to school board clerks:   “The Commission acted to give municipal clerks flexibility to relocate polling places currently slated to be in nursing homes and other facilities where public health is a concern. Under state law, municipalities must establish locations for polling places at least 30 days before an election, which has already passed for April 7. The Commission’s action will allow clerks to find alternate polling place locations as needed.  The Commission will also help clerks publicize new polling place locations so voters can find them.”

Managing the Write-in Candidate Registration Deadline (April 3)  —  The deadline for registering as a write-in candidate is 12:00 p.m. on the Friday preceding the election (i.e., April 3, 2020). Even if the district’s designated filing office would otherwise be closed or operating under modified hours on that day due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is likely that the clerk or his/her designee must be available at the filing office on April 3rd to receive any last-minute write-in registrations (i.e., the Form CF-1 Campaign Finance Registration Statement). Note that write-in candidates do not need to file a Declaration of Candidacy.

A write-in candidate is also permitted to file a registration statement using the “facsimile process” that is outlined in the Wisconsin Ethics Commission’s administrative regulations:

ETH 6.04(3)  … [W]here the Wisconsin Statutes or rules of the ethics commission require that a document be filed no later than a date certain, that document shall be considered timely filed if both:
(a) A duplicate copy of the document is received by the … local filing officer, in its offices, by facsimile process, no later than the day and hour at which the document is required to be filed and
(b) The signed original of the document is received at the offices of the … local filing officer with a postmark not later than the filing deadline; or the signed original is delivered to the … local filing officer not later than the filing deadline.

After the April 3rd deadline for filing a write-in registration passes, the school district clerk or a designee should communicate with each of the district’s municipal clerks to identify the registered write-in candidates, and ensure that the municipalities are aware, for each school board contest that is on the ballot, whether write-in votes need to be counted (1) for all persons who receive write-in votes; or (2) only for registered write-in candidates. This is determined under section 7.50(2)(em) of the state statutes, and the general rule is that a write-in candidate needs to register to have their votes counted if there is at least one candidate who was certified to appear on the ballot for each open position in the office that the write-in candidate is seeking.

Employee Compensation and Leave During the Pandemic

WASB attorneys have received a number of questions regarding employee compensation during a school closure for a pandemic. The following is provided as general information and is not offered as legal advice.  WASB attorneys encourage any member board to refer inquiries about the application of law to any specific factual context to the school district’s legal counsel.

Part of the determination of what to do regarding employee compensation during a school closure for a pandemic depends upon why the employee cannot report to work and whether the district wishes to mitigate the loss of income for the employee.

Specific paid leave benefits or wages for teachers and support staff due to a school closure for emergency reasons (like the pandemic) has more variance due to differences in individual contracts, employee handbooks and board policies regarding fitness for duty determinations, leave availability (sick, emergency/personal, vacation, administrative), acceptable uses for such leave and whether the school district has existing emergency school closing language that addresses the make-up of such days, the pay for such days or the ability to use paid leave for such days.  Due to that fact it is more difficult to give a one size fits all answer or guidance in that arena.

Teachers have individual contracts and those individual contracts will take precedence over other items. If in-person or online learning is not occurring and the teacher is not required to report to work, many districts are keeping teachers in a paid salary basis during any closure due to the pandemic due to the teacher’s individual contract terms.

Some districts have decided to pay support staff employees who are not required to report to work.  In order to effectuate that decision, the ability to remain in a paid status might be done through the following:

  1. Determining that existing sick leave/emergency leave/personal leave cover the school closing due to the pandemic; or
  2. Affording the employee the opportunity to remain in a paid status by using any available paid sick leave/emergency leave/personal leave in combination with any available vacation; or
  3. Providing board-approved administrative paid leave to the employee (this would require separate board action since most school districts would not have a provision like this in their existing policies or employee handbooks); or
  4. Advance wages to employees for the lost time and if the district chooses to make it up later, the employee has already been paid for such days.  This may need the voluntary agreement of the employee.

Additional Resources:

Unemployment Compensation Eligibility During a School Closure Due to a Pandemic

WASB attorneys have received a number of questions regarding unemployment compensation during a school closure during a pandemic. The following is provided as general information and is not offered as legal advice.  WASB attorneys encourage any member board to refer inquiries about the application of law to any specific factual context to the school district’s legal counsel.

If the support staff employee is told not to report to work and is not paid, the employee may be able to file for unemployment compensation since the employee doesn’t have reasonable assurance of a return to work date.  Refer to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development “Unemployment Compensation Guide” that addresses educational employees and reasonable assurance.

Additional Resources:

Fitness for Duty

WASB attorneys have received a number of questions regarding fitness for duty determinations for employees who may have COVID-19 or traveled to or from an area with a COVID-19 outbreak. The following is provided as general information and is not offered as legal advice.  WASB attorneys encourage any member board to refer inquiries about the application of law to any specific factual context to the school district’s legal counsel.

The following resources discuss what kind of health information you may request from an employee during a pandemic.

  • The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) latest Guidance Regarding Coronavirus
  • On March 21, 2020, the EEOC updated previous guidance in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic, consistent with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act workplace protections and rules. The updated guidance includes the following introductory note:The EEOC is updating this 2009 publication to address its application to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).  Employers and employees should follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as state/local public health authorities on how best to slow the spread of this disease and protect workers, customers, clients, and the general public.  The ADA and the Rehabilitation Act do not interfere with employers following advice from the CDC and other public health authorities on appropriate steps to take relating to the workplace.
School Finance
  • WASB Government Relations Staff’s memo entitled “Wisconsin’s Estimated Share and Permissible Use of Federal Funding Under the CARES Act”, which summarizes the allocation process and the permissible uses for Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding. (issued April 2, 2020)School leaders should be aware that the CARES Act requires that public school districts receiving these funds must provide equitable service to non-public schools. School leaders should also be aware that the Act contains language that conditions the receipt of federal education stabilization funds by local educational agencies (e.g., school districts), states, institutions of higher education, or other entities, upon those entities continuing, to the greatest extent practicable, to pay employees and contractors during the period of any disruptions or closures related to the coronavirus.
  • DPI School Financial Services COVID-19 Updates, which include a frequently asked questions document regarding school finance and COVID-19. School districts should check the FAQs frequently as they are continually updated as more information is available. District questions can be sent to COVID-19questions@dpi.wi.gov.

 

Insurance-Related Issues
Public Relations
  • Communications Tips
    When communicating with employees, students and families about Coronavirus, here are a few helpful key messages and tips to keep in mind:

     

    •  The priority is the health and safety of students and employees.
    • Schools work closely with public health officials and rely heavily on their guidance because they are the experts.
    • Local and state health departments are the best resources for current information about coronavirus.
    • Emphasize what is known at the time of the communication.
    • Include the date/time in all communications, including social media posts, because information can change quickly.
    • Include best hygiene practices in communications.
    • Create a web page that can be easily updated to links with the most current information from reliable sources, including the local and state health departments and the Centers for Disease Control.
    • The best way to combat rumors and speculation is easy access to reliable information.

National School Public Relations Association resources, including:

Communicating During A Crisis Tips

CDC Checklist for Teachers and Parents

Additional Resources

School officials should refer to Additional Resources to keep up-to-date on the coronavirus and related prevention and intervention activities.

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