Dear Legal Mailbag:
These are indeed strange times. The teachers in my building have been implementing remote instruction like champions. Even those who were uncomfortable with the technology are coming around, and students are benefitting greatly from the daily live connection with their teachers. I am really proud of the way that everyone is pitching in and working together during this health emergency.
My question has to do with our paraprofessionals. We are doing our best but, to be candid, we have not been able to assign meaningful tasks to all of them. Every one of them I have talked to has been great, and they are all eager to contribute. But, given the limitations of what some of them can do remotely, they are certainly underutilized. To make matters worse, you can’t turn on the television without hearing about the record numbers of people who have been laid off or furloughed and are filing unemployment compensation claims. As a result, some of them are growing increasingly anxious that they may be laid off.
I want to be supportive, but I don’t want to misspeak. Is there anything I can say to them to reduce their anxiety?
Concerned for Staff Members
At the beginning of the week, Legal Mailbag could only advise you to wish the paraprofessionals well and redouble your efforts to find something meaningful for them to do. However, late on Tuesday, Governor Lamont issued Executive Order No. 7R, which provides employment protections to paraprofessionals and other school district employees.
The Executive Order addresses various issues, but the sections relevant here are those dealing with continuity of educational services. The Governor notes in his Executive Order No. 7R that “during the COVID-19 pandemic, school districts and many school staff continue to be essential resources for students’ needs, and both public schools and providers of special education and student transportation will need to promptly and with short notice resume services and classes when public health and safety restrictions allow it.”
Given that concern, the Executive Order provides that local and regional school districts must maintain their regular employees on the payroll, and the Executive Order provides:
In recognition of the fact that schools are required to provide a broad and constantly changing spectrum of services to students and families and will need to reengage students as quickly as possible upon resuming classes, school districts shall continue to employ or restore to employment if already laid off, and pay school staff who are directly employed by the local or regional board of education, including but not limited to teachers, paraprofessionals and other support staff, cafeteria staff, clerical staff, and custodial workers, to the greatest extent practicable.
This mandate from the Governor should provide comfort to paraprofessionals and other district employees who are concerned about their immediate job security. The Executive Order is limited to the time of the current COVID-19 health emergency, and school districts remain free to terminate employees for cause or, with the next school year, eliminate positions and lay off employees as may be necessary. However, for now, this protection will provide peace of mind to many school employees at this very challenging time.
This Executive Order No. 7R and a number of other Executive Orders issued during the current COVID-19 pandemic affect school operations in many ways. In addition, the federal government has provided relief to those affected by the coronavirus by enacting legislation, including but not limited to, the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFCRA), which includes both the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) and Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EMFLEA), as well as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. It is hard to keep up with the various Executive Orders, these federal enactments, and other challenges in operating our schools during the pandemic, albeit remotely. One good source for regular updates on these topics is www.ctschoollaw.com, which may be helpful to you as we weather this crisis together. Thank you, and stay safe.