How long can the school district cancel school?
Provisions of Ohio law govern how long a school year must be. A school year begins on July 1st of each year and ends on June 30th of the next year. R.C. 3313.48 provides that schools must be open for instruction for a minimum of 455 hours for students in half-day kindergarten; 910 hours for students in full-day kindergarten through 6th grade; and 1,001 hours for students in grades 7-12. Schools will be in compliance provided they satisfy these requirements by June 30, 2020.
Of course, if the outbreak gets out of hand, the Ohio legislature is likely to step in and provide a waiver of these requirements or revise the law to deal with the unique circumstances we are in. Further, a school district may not continue to operate if a state or local government entity mandates closer.
Will online education count?
It’s not entirely clear. R.C. 3313.48 provides that schools must be “open for instruction with pupils in attendance.” Furthermore, R.C. 3313.482 addresses make up days via web access (also known as “blizzard bags”). However, it provides that only three school days can be made up via this method provided that a district adopted its plan to require students to access and complete classroom lessons online by August 1, 2019.
The Ohio Department of Education may issue further guidance on this. Additionally, the Ohio legislature could act to permit online education in these circumstances.
There are also special education concerns with respect to mandating online education. Districts must ensure that students with disabilities are able to access the education program, with or without accommodations and modifications. Your teams should carefully consider the needs of your students when making this decision. Please refer to our prior blog post on this topic.
Should the school district cancel district travel to out of town or out of state events?
That is a local decision for each school district to make at this time, subject to local, state and federal emergency orders. School districts certainly have the ability to cancel district travel to events. Although money is secondary to student safety, you may wish to review the cancellation provisions in your contracts with travel vendors. Even if a contract prohibits cancellation or requires payment if travel is canceled, some vendors might be willing to waive those provisions or provide a credit for future travel.
Should the school district cancel athletic and other events?
This is also a local decision for each school district to make at this time, again subject to orders from branches of the government. OHSAA has limited spectators to OHSAA tournaments. School districts certainly have the authority to cancel other events such as school musicals or plays that may draw large crowds or to limit attendance to certain individuals as long as it does so in a nondiscriminatory way.
Can the school district be liable if we permit travel to events or permit athletic and other events at our district to proceed?
We do not think that liability is a priority concern at this time. School districts generally enjoy sovereign immunity to causes of action that might be brought in the event a student, employee, or parent contracts COVID-19. Insurance coverage should also provide school districts with defense coverage. With that said, school districts may want to think twice about sending students to places where the outbreak is worse or where local governments have imposed gathering, travel or movement restrictions. As state and federal governments have stated numerous times, safety should be your priority when making decisions.
If a parent or relative of a student is quarantined or self-quarantined, can a school district prevent students from attending school?
A school district can certainty request that students remain home in these situations and provide for excused absences. In the event a parent or student refuses to stay home, a superintendent has the authority to assign students to home instruction, mandate that education be provided in a school location away from the general school population, or assign students to other available educational options such as online education. Of course, special consideration should be given to special education students before any of these decisions are made.
If school closes for an extended period of time, do we have to pay staff?
The answer to this question is governed in part by individual collective bargaining agreements that can supersede Ohio law. For teachers, R.C. 3319.08(B) states that teachers must be paid for all time lost when schools are closed due to an epidemic or other public calamity, and for time lost due to illness or otherwise for not less than five days annually. As for classified staff, R.C. 3319.081(G) states that all nonteaching employees shall be paid for all time lost when the schools in which they are employed are closed owing to an epidemic or other calamity. These rules will apply unless a collective bargaining agreement provides otherwise. You should meet with your union to discuss your plans and how your operations will be modified as you respond to the situation.
Where can I find other information?
We will continue to update clients as more information becomes available.
ODE guidance and information can be found here:
OSBA resources can be found here:
NSBA resources can be found here:
U.S. Department of Education resources can be found here: