As Minnesota school districts move into their first week of distance learning, two touchstones of MREA should be top of mind:
- Put learners first
- Work together with all staff
Distance learning plans should turn school districts inside-out and equitably reach all students regardless of grade or Internet accessibility. MREA has a landing page for plans, best practices and other resources. Learn more
Working with all staff to meet the needs of the district, keep staff safe, and accommodate the needs and desires of each individual staff member will take listening, creativity and concentrated attention of district leaders.
Fortunately, school district have options that did not exist even one week ago, including:
- Gov. Tim Walz’s Executive Orders
- New Guidance from the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE)
- New Federal FMLA (See Changes to Family Medical Leave Act)
- Expanded Unemployment Insurance (See CARE Act Summary)
By now districts will have identified the staff needed to provide nutrition, child care for Tier 1 and 2 essential workers, distance learning, and transportation and attendance.
Key steps and considerations include:
- Identify and train potential substitutes—who may be current staff.
- Value staff who need to come to school to perform their tasks.
- Prioritize child care workers. In Executive Order 20-19 #24, child care workers have priority for COVID-19 testing, because they are so critical to the overall effort. MDE is also allowing premium pay. MSBA is working on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with unions to allow this.
Having done this, many districts are finding they need fewer staff to fulfill these functions. Many of the underutilized staff are hourly employees in fee based community education and nutrition programs. Here is where the new options come into play. Understanding them and helping each employee understand and choose what works best for them is how districts can ensure all employees feel valued.
The advice from Deputy Education Commissioner Heather Mueller is to work with all unions and non-represented employees Learn more. One approach district leaders might take is to work with the labor representative and simply ask each employee if they want to keep working. Some options include:
- If they’re on a contract that ends at the end of May, they might indicate that being laid off and taking the federal unemployment program for the next 4 months is a better option.
- Or the new FMLA eligibility may be preferred.
- Perhaps if their insurance eligible, the district could continue to cover the district’s share of the premium until their contract expires.
To put learners first and work together with all staff takes caring leadership and knowledge of:
- All executive orders
- New and developing MDE Guidance
- New federal statutes
Stay apprised of resources and news on COVID-19 for schools at: MREAvoice.org/covid19