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Q&A: Coronavirus and our Schools

03/18/2020
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We are doing our best to answer questions that come through social media, email and other means. Here are answers to some of the more frequent questions we've been receiving. Note: Your best resource for assistance with local issues regarding district directives, leave questions, pay, etc. is your local leader and UniServ staff.

Unemployment Insurance

The state's Employment Security Department has posted these Q&As related to school employees about accessing unemployment benefits.

Q. The school I work at is closed due to the Governor's order to close. Am I eligible for unemployment benefits?

A. If you are being paid by the school while your school is closed, you can apply for benefits, but you may be considered fully employed and not eligible. If your school is not paying you while it is closed, you may be eligible for benefits. You will have to be able, available and actively seeking work during each week you claim, unless you are approved for standby. Eligibility decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.

Q. I am a substitute teacher who is no longer able to secure work with a school because of the closures. Am I eligible for unemployment benefits?

A. Substitutes may qualify for unemployment benefits, because the COVID closures is an "unplanned break." To qualify, substitutes need to have worked 680 hours in four consecutive quarters (can be in multiple districts). The Employment Security Department has waived the one-week waiting period that used to be required before one applies for unemployment.

Please note: if your regularly scheduled spring break falls within the school closure window, you may not be eligible for benefits during that week.

Substitutes who believe they qualify are encouraged to contact Employment Security. Eligibility decisions are made on a case-by-case basis and eligibility may also require that the substitute is available and actively seeking work during every week you claim unemployment insurance. Visit the Employment Security website.

While it is a last resort, if anyone needs to access Unemployment Insurance, here are a few tips.

  • If you qualify under the regular rules and have met the work requirement (680 hours in the last 4 quarters), continue to apply under the regular process.
  • If you think you may be newly eligible for benefits under the proposed Pandemic Unemployment Insurance, which expands coverage to part-time and gig economy workers, hold off on applying until the Unemployment Insurance programs can update their guidance and systems  -- which may take 2-3 weeks. This new federal program may allow more substitutes to access unemployment insurance if they did not have enough hours to qualify for the regular unemployment insurance. 

Employment Security and Labor and Industries are collaborating and updating a simplified table to incorporate the recently enacted federal leaves recently and unemployment changes. 

Q. I’m a retiree who relies on substituting to round out my pension. Can I get unemployment?

A. Substitutes who are retired and receiving a pension may be eligible for unemployment benefits, but your pension will be deducted from the amount that unemployment would pay. This is true for any other form of wages as well.

NEA Member Benefits
As a member of WEA/NEA you have access to 75-plus programs and services developed specifically for members to save time and money. Many member partners are offering special assistance to members in need who may have been affected by an involuntary layoff. Visit NEA Member Benefits.

SEBB Eligibility

Q: Do I keep my health care if I'm an hourly worker?

During the COVID-19 state of emergency, school employees who were eligible for SEBB at the beginning, Feb. 29, will maintain their SEBB eligibility. When regular school operations resume, SEBB eligibility will remain if the employee returns to the same schedule or if their new schedule would have resulted in 630 hours had it been in effect for the entire year.

The Health Care Authority has noted that if school employees access unemployment benefits after being put on standby by their district, that act alone will not end their benefit eligibility. In other words, usage of unemployment benefits will not be considered a termination of employment. We are not expecting many school employees to be placed on standby, but this clarification may be useful for substitutes or other intermittent workers.

Shared Leave

Shared leave is now allowed on an intermittent basis, not just in full-time leave. During the COVID-19 emergency, this legislation allows shared leave to be used if an individual or family member is quarantined by a public health official or a health care provider. These changes related to COVID-19 are not likely to be relevant until schools re-open and may not be relevant in cases where we have negotiated COVID-19 emergency leave, but it is an additional option.

PEBB Eligibility

PEBB eligibility rules are different than K-12 SEBB eligibility rules.

For year-round positions, employees only need to be in employment status for eight hours per month to maintain eligibility.

Rules are different for faculty, who generally must have a half-time course-load for two or more quarters to be eligible. But, there is a policy that helps to maintain coverage for faculty during a downturn. When an employer decreases workload, the employer contribution for benefits can be maintained for the quarter/semester in each month when the faculty member is at least in "pay status for 5 percent of full-time."

Continuous Learning

Q: OSPI expects educational services for all students to resume by Monday, March 30. How is this equitable?

A: We have to remember that even though we have been working hard to improve equitable access to public education for all students, we weren't there before the pandemic hit. We must continue to make good faith efforts to reach every student, including those with disabilities, students of color and English Language Learners, while we navigate through these school closures. If educational services are provided for all students, then special education services should be provided. However, these services may not be exactly as what was offered before the closure.

We must also keep in mind that it is not up to individual educators to solve this -- districts should be working with our locals to provide systemic solutions to meet the needs of all students in the best way we can with these unprecedented circumstances. OSPI has said that continuous learning should be based on common sense, compassion and communication, not compliance.

Testing

Q: Are we still going to administer the state assessments?

A: State assessments are canceled statewide for the remainder of the 2020 school year. These include: Smarter Balanced Assessments (English Language Arts and Math) for grades 3–8 and 10; Washington Access to Instruction and Measurement (WA-AIM) English Language Arts and Math for grades 3–8 and 10; English Language Proficiency Assessment (ELPA21); Washington Comprehensive Assessment of Science for grades 5, 8, and 11; Washington Access to Instruction and Measurement (WA-AIM) Science for grades 5, 8, and 11; WIDA Alternate ACCESS for English learners; and WaKIDS for Transitional Kindergarten.

Q: Will high school students be able to take the Advanced Placement exams, International Baccalaureate exam or SATs this year?

A: The College Board is revising its approach to AP exams this year, providing more free at-home learning resources and developing a new at-home online test option. The exams will only include topics and skills most AP teachers and students have already covered in class by early March. The full exam schedule, specific free-response question types that will be on each AP Exam, and additional testing details will be available by April 3. Visit the College Board website for details and free test prep classes.

The May 2020 IB exams will not be held. Depending on what they registered for, the student will be awarded a Diploma or a Course Certificate which reflects their standard of work. This is based on student's coursework and the established assessment expertise, rigor and quality control already built into the programmes. Full details will be sent to schools by March 27.

The June 6 SAT has not been canceled yet and the College Board is working to provide future SAT testing opportunities for students as soon as possible in place of canceled test sessions. Students who already registered for May, whose March test centers were closed, or who do not receive March scores because of any irregularities will receive refunds. The College Board will share additional information and details directly with registered students and test centers.

Student Loan Relief

The U.S. Education Department directed all student loan servicers to grant at least 60 days of relief to any borrower who requests it. They must contact their loan servicer online or by phone. Unfortunately, this is not guaranteed to help those who are making payments in order to seek Public Service Loan Forgiveness or those already enrolled in a repayment plan. NEA is advocating to address those additional issues in the next COVID-19 relief legislative package.

School Calendar, Graduations and More

Q. Will schools have to make up days beyond June 19?

A. Your district must apply for a waiver. OSPI has said that if a good faith effort has been made to make up lost hours or days, it will grant the waivers. Schools that typically end before June 19 would have until June 19 to make up the time. Schools that end after June 19 would have until their previously scheduled end date to meet the requirements.

Q: What happens to the Class of 2020 and high school graduation?

A: The State Board of Education is considering emergency rules that will give districts additional flexibility to waive certain state credit requirements for high school graduation. To get the waiver, districts will need to complete a simple application and demonstrate a good faith effort to address core course requirements and credit deficiencies. Districts that receive the waiver will have the authority to waive credits on an individual basis for seniors who were on track to graduate this school year. The rules would not excuse students from completing a High School and Beyond Plan or local graduation requirements.

The board expects to adopt program rules at its special meeting on April 8, and hopes to launch the application for districts by the middle of April.

Aspiring Educators

Because of challenges from COVID-19, providers are creating plans, recruiting and admitting the next group of educator candidates. While candidates are required to take a basic skills assessment, they may choose to submit evidence of taking an alternative or equivalent basic skills test. Prep programs can offer a conditional acceptance to those who have not yet taken the basic skills test or full acceptance to those who have completed the requirement. Some candidates may be eligible for a one-year emergency certificate. Check the WEST assessment website for guidelines on test center closings and rescheduling procedures. There is also new guidance to support candidates for candidates and for prep programs that are being impacted by COVID-19. Find more information on dual endorsement questions/requirements and emergency certificates here. Most organizations that process fingerprints are not open. OSPI is providing guidance on how to handle during the interim. Professional Educator Advisory Board meetings are continuing online during this time.
 

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