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q&a on the issues

The coronavirus era

New York Teacher
The coronavirus era

Elements of the UFT-Department of Education contract do not translate easily to the remote era of teaching and learning, so the DOE, in consultation with the UFT, has issued new guidance and created new protocols and procedures for school staff. The following Q&A answers some of the most commonly asked questions.

What are the work hours for school-based UFT members?

Employees should not be asked to work outside of the contractual workday. The DOE has asked principals to be flexible. Working remotely necessitates using time differently from a traditional period-by-period school day. In consultation with school administration, school staff must use professional discretion to determine how to work remotely. Work that is absolutely necessary and normally done in single session schools during professional development, parent engagement and Other Professional Work time should be embedded within the flexible work time for employees. Work that is done during faculty and department conferences in multisession schools should be similarly embedded.

What parameters can a supervisor set regarding workdays?

The DOE has asked principals to be mindful that school staff, students, and parents may be caring for others, sharing technology resources and/or be battling illness themselves. Under the current conditions, principals have been advised to give staff flexibility in establishing remote teaching instructional programs. Schools should not try to replicate a regular school-day schedule in a virtual environment. Schools may establish time for staff collaboration (by department and/or grade level) as well as whole school check-ins (faculty conference). Each of these should be a maximum of once per week and should be developed in consultation with the chapter leader and the school community.

Can teachers be required to give administrators access to their online learning platform?

If asked by an administrator, teachers must provide access to their online learning platform (such as Google Classroom). The change of the instructional delivery model to a remote learning paradigm does not change the ability of a supervisory staff member to “walk into a classroom.” Supervisors should provide guidance and feedback, support and pass along best practices that are observed in the various modes of remote learning as soon as is practicable. Teachers must know when the supervisor is “present” in the classroom.

Can principals mandate teachers to do live instruction?

No, they cannot. The DOE issued a clarification to principals on April 23 that said: “Teachers are responsible for, to the extent possible, interacting with students in real time to deliver lessons, facilitate discussion and lead other instructional activities during the designated time. This can be done in multiple ways; for example, videotaping instruction, responding to student work or synchronous instruction. As we continue to flexibly meet the needs of all students, families and school personnel, synchronous instruction is not required at this time. We are confident that each school community will select and continue to adapt the instructional methods that work best for their unique communities.”

What happens if I am up for tenure while public schools are closed?

The UFT is having ongoing conversations with the State Education Department about guidance on tenure decisions. In the meantime, superintendents can approve tenure for pedagogues who have completed probation. If you have been notified that your probation has been extended, union attorneys can review and provide advice about your tenure extension. Be advised that if you do not accept the DOE’s extension of your probationary period, the DOE may discontinue your employment.

If a per-session or pro rata activity is canceled, what will happen with respect to retention rights?

Retention rights will not be lost if a per-session activity is canceled as a result of COVID-19. 

Are schools required to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to students with disabilities during a school closure caused by COVID-19?

According to guidance provided by both the U.S. Department of Education and the New York State Education Department, schools that continue to provide educational opportunities to the general student population during a school closure must ensure that students with disabilities have equal access to the same opportunities, including the provision of a free appropriate public education. To this end, schools must ensure that, to the greatest extent possible, each student with a disability is provided the special education and related services identified in the student’s IEP. Recognizing that schools may not be able to provide all services in the same manner they are typically provided, the guidance instructs schools to collaborate creatively with parents to educate students, as appropriate, through distance instruction, tele-therapy and tele-intervention, and other virtual, online and telephonic methods. Planned activities must be accessible to students with disabilities, including English language learners, and allow these students to receive educational benefits comparable to their general education peers.

How is the DOE tracking teacher attendance?

New DOE attendance guidelines, issued in consultation with the UFT, require school secretaries to submit staff attendance on a weekly basis. By 3 p.m. each Friday, staff must fill out a new Google attendance form created by the DOE that asks them to indicate the days they worked from home that week and the days, if any, that they were absent. The school’s payroll secretary uses this information to update attendance and timekeeping in EIS, which remains the system of record.

If a school-based employee is unable to work from home on a particular day, that employee should still notify their supervisor and their timekeeper as soon as possible in the morning so that coverage can be arranged.

When should we see in our sick bank the four CAR days granted so far for working through the spring break?

The CAR days appeared in your bank by May 11, 2020, for those days. If someone used a day before then, the discrepancy was resolved once the additional days were entered.

If I cannot work because I have been diagnosed with COVID-19, are those days deducted from my sick bank?

No, they will be classified as “non-attendance” days. Under these conditions, no deduction to CAR or annual leave will occur pursuant to Payroll Memo #13.

What happens if I am unable to work because I am looking after a family member who is sick with the coronavirus?

DOE employees who cannot work because they are caring for someone who is sick with COVID can take a leave with partial pay to care for that person. Please call the UFT at 212-331-6311.

I have been assigned to work in a Regional Enrichment Center and I have a preexisting health condition. What do I do?

If you are over age 70 or have a health condition, including pregnancy, which would put you at higher risk of serious consequences from a COVID-19 infection, you do not have to use CAR days if you cannot safely report to a work assignment outside your home. These absences will be considered “non-attendance” days and will not be charged to your sick bank.