Governor Gavin Newsom’s Executive Order N-26-20 (released on Friday, March 13, 2020, and discussed in “Governor Issues Executive Order in Response to School Closures Due to the COVID-19 Crisis,” in the March 2020, Fiscal Report) was both an acknowledgement of the severity of the current pandemic and the provision of much needed flexibility for local educational agencies (LEAs). The Executive Order committed to providing funding to LEAs to allow the continuation of the following critical services in the event of a school closure:
• High-quality educational opportunities through distance learning and/or independent study
• School meals through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO)
• Supervision for students during ordinary school hours
• Employee compensation
Although the Executive Order assured continued financial resources for LEAs, it generated a significant number of questions related to the implementation of the tasks identified above. We have accumulated questions from the field, along with our own internally generated questions, and categorized the considerations in three key areas—provision of school meals, instruction during school closure, and compensation for employees. While the first priority continues to be the safety and security of students and employees, an additional concern is ensuring that funding is not jeopardized on a prospective basis, which would have a direct impact on the students and employees we are striving to protect and serve during this crisis. Each of the following categories are fraught with legal requirements and LEAs want to avoid missteps while serving an important role in the support of students, families, and employees. The Executive Order notes that additional guidance will be developed and released by the California Department of Education and the Health and Human Services Agency on Tuesday, March 17, 2020, and as more guidance is available, we will publish Fiscal Report articles to provide updated information and implementation considerations. For now, here are our top questions and concerns as we wait for more guidance:
Provision of school meals—Many LEAs participate in the National School Lunch Program, but not all LEAs participate in the SFSP or the SSO. Confusion abounds about how meals can be served if an LEA does not participate in the SFSP or the SSO and the logistics of providing meals while observing social distancing requirements.
Instruction during school closure—LEAs must comply with myriad federal and state laws including, but not limited to, providing a free and appropriate public education for students with disabilities, serving English learners, maintaining a minimum number of annual instructional minutes and days, and independent study requirements which state that no student may involuntarily be put on independent study. In addition, disparate levels of access to technology and internet services—“the digital divide”—persists in many communities, making it difficult for many families to access instruction and information electronically while schools are closed.
Compensation for employees—Under normal circumstances, employees must be present or use accrued sick and/or vacation leave to maintain a fully paid status. In the absence of those factors, employee pay is commensurately reduced. Does the application of the Executive Order supplant these factors, and if so, are there lingering impacts to an employee’s service credit for retirement?
This article details just some of the concerns we have as LEAs navigate this challenging time. At School Services of California Inc., we remain committed to providing clear and direct advice for our friends and colleagues in the field. As LEAs navigate the hurdles and pitfalls of this unprecedented outbreak, know that we continue to ask the necessary questions of state leaders and compile and share information that will aide in practical recommendations.