April 2, 2020
Good evening HUUSD Staff-
First, I want to begin by wishing you and your family continued good health during these trying and unpredictable times. I am writing tonight to provide you with updated information, future direction, and answers to many of your questions. Thanks for your patience this week as I have listened, learned, and conferenced with attorneys, VSA, the AOE, and our HUUSD Admin Team to make some important decisions for our district.
At this time, it is important that we acknowledge we are all anxious and stressed, along with our students and their families. We keep thinking how unbelievable this all is -scary. One day we woke up and our lives as we know them were gone. Adjusting to this forced and confusing “new normal” is trying our patience, tiring, and sometimes emotional.
As you strive to develop and implement engaging, comprehensive remote/distance learning for the remainder of the year, please keep in the forefront of your planning reasonableness. Ask yourself, is what I am asking my students and their families to do manageable? You cannot expect parents, especially under these extreme circumstances, to be able to implement and support the same learning you can accomplish in a week in your classroom. Furthermore, we must give serious thought to how we help family relationships stay strong by doing everything we can to mitigate learning struggles in the home over school assignments.
Remember we are all in this together, trying our very best, wishing we could return to school. That is not possible. A lot of adjustment is needed. Stay focused on the essential learning left for the remainder of the year with a less is best and quality over quantity approach whenever possible.
Just think, only 16 days ago, slightly more than two weeks, we were told our schools would close
through April 6th. Our entire district pulled together, hit the gas pedal and figured it out, often working around the clock and all weekend. We barely caught our breath, had not yet reflected upon and evaluated our work, when we learned we will close schools for the remainder of the year, now expected to teach and run the district from home remotely, as much as possible, while we fight a pandemic.
We can do this, together, one day at a time. Our district operates systemically, depending on and succeeding with many high functioning teams, well established procedures, solid communication structures, well developed technology-based tools, integrated sharing of resources and ideas, and shared decision making. We must remain flexible, patient, understanding, and willing to support and cover for each other whenever possible to get through until next fall, when hopefully things return to the “old normal.”
All HUUSD school employees will continue to have their regular salaries and benefits paid for the remainder of this school year unless I receive a directive from the Governor or Secretary of Education telling me otherwise. This applies to all employees with regular school day work agreements. It does not apply to MECA, stipends, co-curricular, extracurricular, or independent contract providers. Those will be considered on an individual basis as we move through the remainder of the year. We do not plan to lay off our HUUSD employees.
Staff will work from home whenever possible. All school staff are considered essential employees. Staff are allowed in buildings to the least extent necessary to pick up and drop off materials.
The Governor has designated three school functions as essential and therefore exempt, where necessary, from the stay at home order: the delivery of student meals, the preparation of remote learning, and the provision of childcare to essential workers. The Agency urges districts to complete these tasks with the fewest staff necessary in order to prevent further community spread.
All staff working remotely should follow the CBA agreements as if they were at school. This means for leave, sick days, FMLA, ADA, etc. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) signed into law on March 18, 2020 established emergency paid sick leave for all government employees, including school employees. The FFCRA provides eighty (80) hours of such leave for full-time employees and hours worked over a two-week period for part-time employees, e.g. thirty (30) hours per week equals an allowance of sixty (6) hours of paid leave time. The emergency leave under FFCRA is in addition to any leave entitlement under a collective bargaining agreement or employer policy; the leaves do not run concurrently. There is no requirement that an employee must expend their contractual leave entitlement first.
There is confusion about exempt status. The exempt status document should be used only for an exemption in a congregate setting. In other words, if you are assigned to come into the building to do work, and fall into one of the allowable exempt categories, then you fill out the form. There is no exemption for working remotely. We must meet the need of continuing the education of all students remotely through the end of the year. Staff working remotely are being paid and expected to fulfill the work requirements established by the district and your building principal.
Documentation is key throughout this next phase, especially after April 6th.
Paraeducators will work remotely with students. The rules and regulations around this have become more flexible through recent waivers. Each building principal and Donarae or Michael needs to create a detailed weekly calendar and schedule for each paraeducator. Each paraeducator needs to sign off and document that the service indicated was provided. Paraeducators can be scheduled as if it were their regular work day specified in the CBA, with lunch, breaks, and everything else just as the CBA, to work with students in special education, on 504 plans, EST plans, or other students deemed in need of support by the building principal. The administration will work with our paraeducators as to how to document and code their work for reimbursement purposes over the next couple of weeks.
We will be following our existing calendar. April break will remain a break - no remote learning is required. Food Service staff will continue working during their break as we strive to keep feeding our students. They will receive additional pay on top of their regular salary. If school district volunteers are called in to support our meals program, they will receive additional pay for this week they otherwise would not be working. Volunteers from the community can also be paid. The AOE expects more guidance about meals during April break soon.
We are required to attend 175 days of school this year. Normally, we schedule 178 days for students and 10 inservice days for staff. We had 5 snow days. As of March 18, the first day we were closed, we had completed 117 days. I applied for a waiver of student days for March 16 and 17 when I called inservice due to COVID-19. That means we need to reach 173 student days. Fortunately, I found out today that our implementation plans for March 18th thru April 6th will count towards those 173 required days. This is great news.
Here is the catch. Teachers and other staff must take attendance everyday beginning Monday, April 6th. This is defined by at least one daily contact with every student through online face-to-face, email, or log in. Your principals will be providing more specific direction to you on this and how attendance will be entered into PowerSchool, then reported to the state. If we cannot document that a majority of our student body (approximately 51%) did not engage in remote learning on any given day it will not count, and we will need to make that day up at the end of the year.
It is critically important that attendance protocols are followed by everyone.
I am still working on when the last day of school will be. This is largely dependent on the science and medical communities’ advice about the virus. If everything goes smoothly, our last day is expected to be June 15th. Again, I am still working on this. The Secretary of Education has the final decision about future waivers for days and/or requirements for making them up. The 175 days appear firm.
We are expecting rules and guidance on end of year gatherings on May 8th.
COVID-19 is causing us to reinvent how we do business. This means we are purchasing materials or incurring costs that we otherwise would not have. All existing procedures for approval of expenditures, receipts, reimbursements, etc. are in effect. Prior approval is required. Documentation is required. Receipts are necessary. The district is expected to receive emergency funding to cover these expenses.
Recently, the admin team sent out surveys to staff, parents and students to get feedback and “take the pulse.” If you haven’t completed the survey yet, please do. They are very helpful to us as we plan and make decisions.
By April 13th, we are required to submit to the AOE our Continuous Learning Plan (CLP) for the remainder of the year. Our admin team is already quite far in its preparation. Please review the requirements:
Beginning Monday, March 16, 2020, the Vermont Agency of Education Licensing Office will be teleworking for the foreseeable future. Please contact the licensing team by email, as our access to voice mail will be limited. For inquiries regarding pending 2020 licensing applications, please check the first option in your online menu – “Pending Online Applications”—for the application status. For questions regarding application types, please begin with resources on the AOE licensing webpage, including the tutorials, FAQs and flowcharts. For pending license applications requiring fingerprinted supported Criminal Record Checks, the Licensing Office WILL NOT enforce the 15 days requirement to upload a fingerprint receipt and will keep such applications open until further notice. For educators served by a Local/Regional Standards Board (L/RSB) please know that Boards are not required to meet while schools are closed. Educators may continue to submit complete applications to their Board. Once school reopens, Boards will start to review the applications. For educators not served by a Local or Regional Standards Board, continue to submit renewal, reinstatement and retired educator applications directly to the Licensing Office. More information regarding the 2020 renewal season will be updated when the Agency has more specific information. Contact: Amy Scalabrini at [email protected]
Well, it’s getting late and I need to close, but I wanted to get this to you tonight. I want you to know that I am extremely proud of our district. I cannot tell you how many times in the last two weeks my colleagues have thanked me for sharing our work; they seek it out. Balance is our friend - work, home, and play. You are all doing a fantastic job. Remember to be reflective of where we have been so we can better determine where we will be going. Laugh where you can and keep those that you love and care about close in heart, mind and deeds (since you can’t touch them). I will do my best to keep you informed and answer your questions along the way.
Let’s lift each other up along this journey. In the words of Maya Angelou:
I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
Good night. Thinking of you all.