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Q&A: Coronavirus and our Schools

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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 & Benefits

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

The money is not going to run out. Everyone who is eligible will get their money and will be paid retroactive to their date of eligibility. As long as you submit your weekly claims, ESD will review your claims for eligibility and ensure your benefits are delivered to you.

Make sure to read all the instructions and information on the ESD website before you apply. This can help you make sure you have necessary information to fill out the application and submit your claim. ESD is putting on daily webinars to help answer your questions.

Apply when there's less internet traffic. Trying at an off-hour can help you get through more quickly. You can also try using the automated phone system to submit your claim after 6 p.m. The toll-free number is 800-318-6022.

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.

SEBB and COBRA mailing: Members are receiving a mailing from the Health Care Authority concerning their rights to COBRA coverage. Please know that this mailing is informational only and required by law as part of the transition to SEBB. This does not mean that anyone is losing SEBB coverage. WEA was able to ensure that those who were covered on Feb. 29 will continue to have SEBB employer benefits through the shutdowns.

Dependent Care Assistance Program (DCAP) election changes 

In light of school closures, day care disruptions, and general-purpose day camp closures this summer due to the pandemic, school employees may be able to change their 2020 DCAP elections.

If costs for dependent or elder care have changed, that change creates something called a special open enrollment (SOE). The employee has 60 days from the date of the cost change to increase or decrease their annual election.

The change must be consistent with the event that creates the SOE. For example, if costs decrease because someone's day care closed, the person can only decrease their election. Likewise, if the employee was forced to switch to a more expensive facility because their regular daycare was closed, they can only increase their election. Keep in mind that employees decreasing their elections can only lower the annual contribution to the amount they have already contributed so far this year.

To make the change, the employee must submit the SEBB Change in Status form to their employer along with proof of the cost change.

Employees can change their Medical FSA elections only if they experience an SOE event that allows this change. Those events are more limited than the dependent care options, however.

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.


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, Cambridge exam or SATs this year?

A: All AP testing will be administered online. The AP exam wil eliminate the multiple choice questions and will only include open-ended questions which will shorten the length of the test. The number of testing windows has been reduced for 2020. The first AP testing window is scheduled for May 11-22 and exam dates are scheduled by subject. There will be only ONE make-up testing session and that's scheduled for June 1-5. OSPI is strongly encouraging all students to participate in the first testing window to ensure they have the make-up session in case they experience any problems such as technical difficulties.

Visit the College Board website for details and free test prep classes.

The May 2020 IB exams will not be held. Scorees will instead be calculated based on a student's "Body of Evidence" that must be uploaded by April 20. Students should work directly with their IB teachers and IB Coordinator to ensure they know what materials to upload. Read more.

Cambridge has not yet published a date for testing. Visit Cambridge's website for updates.

All three organizations have the goal of issuing scores based on their regular schedule to ensure scores are ready to be shared with colleges and other entities.

The June 6 SAT and SAT Subject Tests have been canceled. Please visit the College Board for updates.

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 has held several webinars to explain what the CARES Act, a COVID-19 relief law, means to those who have student debt. Among the changes in the relief law include a suspension of interest and payments for borrowers who have federal student loans from April 10, 2020 to Sept. 30, 2020. Watch the April 7 webinar.

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 has adopted emergency rules that  allow school districts to apply for greater flexibility in awarding a diploma to high school seniors impacted by closures. The rules give districts additional flexibility to waive certain state credit requirements for individual students. To get the waiver, districts will need to complete an online application and make a good faith effort to give students opportunities to complete credits for high school graduation. 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.

Applications for the waiver will be available online for school districts by April 15.

Review April 21 OSPI webinar or listen to the recording for WEA members navigating graduation requirements and emergency rules for the graduating Class of 2020.

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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