On April 30th, 2020, the Ohio Department of Health Director, Dr. Amy Acton, issued two revised orders that will impact school operations at least in the short term. These orders will cover school operations through June 30th at a minimum.
It’s a wrap – concluding school operations for 2019-2020.
The first order directs schools to remain closed to students through June 30th, 2020. However, the Director clarifies that the order does not prohibit administrators, teachers, staff, vendors, or contractors from showing up for work. Rather, administrators are tasked with determining who will have access to the buildings and are encouraged to promote practices such as social distancing and frequent hand washing. The order encourages administrators to consider remote work options when possible.
The order also specifically excludes a number of activities and events that may occur at schools, such as voting, food services, health services, and charitable works, as well as “targeted” and other educational programs and activities. While schools have the discretion to determine what types of programs and services may be provided, it should do so with caution and only after consulting with the local health department and legal counsel. Further, a school district must obtain written approval from the local department of health before the activities may be held and then must submit a copy of the written approval to both the Ohio Department of Health and the Ohio Department of Education.
Schools are expected to follow the social distancing guidelines published by the Ohio Department of Health while conducting activities. Local law enforcement and other officials who are tasked with enforcing the order are also directed and encouraged to contact local health departments with questions and for opinions about implementation.
Because there are many practical and legal implications as you determine what operations will resume, it is very important to consult with your administrators, local health departments, and legal counsel as you make plans. Click here to review the order.
Business as Usual? Not so fast!
The second order, which will remain in effect through May 29th, 2020, addresses how residents and the majority of businesses will operate during much of May. The stay-at-home requirement remains for residents, although they are permitted to engage in business activities authorized by the order. Individuals who are returning to the state are encouraged to self-quarantine for fourteen days.
The order allows most businesses to resume operations as long as they meet workplace safety standards. These standards changed several times, but as of May 1st included the following:
- Employees must wear face masks or “face coverings” at all times unless an exception applies; it is recommended that visitors do as well.
- Employers and employees will conduct daily health assessments to determine if someone is “fit for duty.”
- Employees who report for work will maintain social distancing (people will stay 6 feet apart) and will also sanitize and wash hands regularly.
- Worksites will be cleaned throughout the workday (for high touch surfaces), as well as at the close of each day or between shifts.
- To meet social distancing guidelines, buildings will limit the number of visitors and employees to 50% of the building capacity established by the fire code.
There are specific rules about face coverings and masks, including when employees are not required to wear them in the workplace. The exceptions include the following:
- Masks/coverings are prohibited by law or regulation.
- Masks/coverings are in violation of a documented industry standard.
- Masks/coverings are not “advisable” for health reasons.
- Masks/coverings violate a business’s documented safety policy.
- Employees are working alone in an area and coverings are therefore not necessary.
- There is a practical/functional reason why an employee should not wear a covering or mask.
At a minimum, facial masks or coverings should be made of cloth and should cover an individual’s mouth, nose, and chin. An employer must be able to provide written justification for any exception if requested to do so.
Employers are expected to “immediately report” when any employee is diagnosed with COVID-19 and will work with the local department to identify others who may have been exposed. They are also expected to send employees home when they show signs of the illness. When possible, a building site will be closed until it can be professionally cleaned. Buildings may be reopened in consultation with the local health department.
Paragraph 20 of the order contains a more specific list of steps that businesses are expected to comply with as operations resume, broken down by type of business. The order specifies requirements for manufacturing, construction, consumer retail and services, and general office environment. Of course, schools are governed by the separate order summarized above.
Finally, the order includes a list of businesses that must remain closed for the time being, including schools (at least as to student attendance), most childcare services, beauty salons, entertainment and recreation facilities, and restaurants/bars. These businesses may only engage in minimum basic operations as defined by the businesses.
Click here to review the order.
Possible Challenge to Orders Being Proposed in the House
State Rep. John Becker of Clermont County plans to introduce a bill that would repeal the current health orders, and make any future orders issued by the Director of Health advisory unless and until those orders are approved by the General Assembly. The bill would focus on speeding up Ohio’s return to normal business operations. Stay tuned for more information about this and other efforts to change the state’s direction.
We Can Help!
Many challenges and opportunities continue to present themselves during this pandemic – it is critical that you rely on credible sources of information to remain up-to-date. It is also important for you to consider your district’s specific needs as you develop plans, and remember that there is no “one size fits all” approach. Make sure you discuss your details and situation with legal counsel to determine how you can effectively implement these and other orders that arise.