Clark County school districts are beginning to roll out plans for paying their staff in the midst of the novel coronavirus outbreak, pledging that employees will be paid through extended closures.
What that looks like depends on each individual district, but the message from area superintendents has largely been the same: Educators’ days will look a little different, but they’re still available for work and will, therefore, be paid during the closures. Currently, schools are scheduled to re-open April 27.
The Evergreen, Vancouver and Camas school districts thus far have announced agreements with their respective labor unions that allow for continued pay and benefits, while staff are available for remote work.
Other districts in Clark County and across the state are continuing to negotiate, Washington Education Association spokeswoman Linda Mullen said.
“It’s hard to anticipate all the changes that might be coming and all the issues that need to be addressed,” Mullen said.
Evergreen and Vancouver Public Schools this week announced that all staff will receive pay and benefits during the closures. In exchange, staff will be expected to do work from home or alternate assignments, like Evergreen school bus drivers who are delivering meals to elementary school bus stops across the district.
“Honoring and protecting our employees’ safety is our paramount duty in minimizing exposure to COVID-19,” Evergreen Superintendent Mike Merlino said in an email to staff this week.
Bill Beville, president of the Evergreen Education Association, said that means teachers will need to be available to communicate to parents and provide online learning resources to those who ask for it.
“We have to be ready and available for work,” Beville said. “We have to have online remote solutions for being able to provide services for the community.”
The Camas School District and its teachers further agreed that teachers will also not be required to use their own sick leave if they’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19, are at risk of contracting the virus or have recently traveled to an affected country.
“I think (the district) and (union) were able to craft an agreement that protects us and lets us continue to serve students,” union President Shelley Houle said.
Other districts remain in negotiations with labor units to outline their duties over the coming weeks. Staff are at work in the Ridgefield School District, for example, providing meal services and child care for the children of health care workers and first responders.
“Our commitment is to keep everyone whole,” Ridgefield School District Superintendent Nathan McCann said.
Mullen noted the difficulty of the situation, saying local approaches to the crisis will have to be bargained by all of the state’s 295 school districts as opposed to a blanket decision by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
“There is work to be done if we want to be paid,” she said. “We need to be flexible. We need our districts to be flexible.”