COVID-19: Answers to essential questions for CFT members
Even when working from home, with schools and businesses closed, the union connects us and makes us stronger. Here we answer many of the questions we have heard from you, through our Tele-Townhall meeting and through our website. However, situations vary greatly around the state so please contact your local union leaders for information that may be even more specific to your district or place of employment.
THE BIG PICTURE
Is there an end to this? When will we return back to normal life?
We don’t have a definitive answer to this question. Please know that everyone in the greater CFT and education community is going through this Covid-19 crisis together. AFT local unions are working with employers across the state to protect the health and safety of our members and communities. The CFT is working with state officials to protect public health and continually provide guidance and advice on education issues both administrative and pedagogical.
We struggle with the same challenges as our members. But we also know that having a union means that our thousands of members can support one another. The union gives us a voice to make our concerns heard clearly, and the power to act on behalf of our members, students and communities. No matter how long this pandemic requires us to maintain physical distance from each other, our unions gives us a way to remain connected. We may not have all of the answers, but we know that our union will help us all get through this together.
What do we know about the possibility of schools being closed until fall? If we are out until the end of the school year, will our pay and benefits be uninterrupted until the end of the school year?
It’s possible that schools could be closed until fall, but no one can say for certain. The Governor’s March 13 Executive Order maintained all funding for K-12 schools through the end of the 2019-20 school year, regardless of any loss of instructional days or attendance due to the pandemic. The order was explicit about its intent to maintain pay for school employees during the COVID-19 crisis. Community college funding is similarly maintained for the duration of the school year under separate legislation about emergencies. Governor Newsom’s leadership and our advocacy ensured that school and college employees could continue to be paid through summer, even during school closures.
We have been working with local unions to negotiate emergency agreements that make sure this happens in every school and college district. Just because the revenue is available doesn’t mean districts will make the right decisions. We’ve supported many unions in negotiating salary guarantees, enhanced leave provisions, alternate work assignments, and health and safety protections. Your local unions can provide you any recently negotiated agreements with your district.
What is going to happen next school year? Will this cause teacher and staff layoffs in 20-21?
We can’t predict the answer to this question, and we suspect that circumstances will vary greatly from district to district, employer to employer. Some districts had already announced layoffs for the 2020-21 school year, even before the pandemic struck. The economic losses caused by the pandemic suggest some very difficult budget years ahead. Please stay in contact with your local union and your employer so you know what is happening in your specific workplace.
What are we doing to ensure the cleanliness of schools? Will there be new protocols when school is back in session?
The question of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) has drawn much new attention. Most of the emergency agreements being negotiated now between unions and employers specify what materials must be available for cleaning. There may also be new guidance forthcoming from the CDE and public health agencies that mandate other new protocols. We are currently participating in these discussions with state agencies, and will report new information to our members as soon as it becomes available.
I was sick and wanted to stay home but the principal asked to see a doctor’s note. How does someone get proof of infection from a doctor when there are so few tests and you have to wait to get a test?
Your local collective bargaining agreement (contract) may normally require doctor’s notes in certain instances, but many local unions have negotiated a new agreement to address the current health crisis. CFT has suggested new terms that allow members to comply with all public health directives, provide additional paid leave as needed, and protect members at higher risk for contracting COVID-19. We strongly believe that anyone who is sick right now should be able to remain home without any proof of illness.
Check with your local union to see what terms may have recently changed. Local leaders should contact their CFT Field Representative immediately if employers are preventing members from following public health advice and risking the safety of themselves and others. We believe this behavior by employers is reckless and inconsistent with public health orders, and may also conflict with the new federal emergency leave that begins on April 2.
I am considered at higher risk of severe illness if I contract coronavirus, but my employer says I still need to report to work. What can I do to protect myself?
If you meet the CDC requirements for those at elevated risk due to contracting COVID-19, we believe you should put public health directives and your personal health first. Public health orders require all non-essential workers to stay at home unless absolutely necessary. The CDC has designated the following groups as high-risk:
- People age 65 and older
- People with chronic lung disease or asthma
- People with serious heart conditions
- People who are immune-compromised
- People with other serious underlying medical conditions (diabetes, renal failure, liver disease, severe obesity)
The CFT has recommended that all local unions negotiate emergency agreements that allow these high-risk members to either work from home, or remain home on paid administrative leave (if unable to work). Many local unions have already done so. Check with your local union to see whether they have negotiated a new agreement that covers your situation.
You may also be eligible for short-term disability, because your underlying condition now renders you unable to work while following public health orders. We recommend you immediately request a disability accommodation to work from home or be placed on paid administrative leave if unable to work from home. You can use sick leave to maintain your pay until your accommodation is granted, or until alternate agreements have been reached with your employer.
What are my union protections?
The most important protection is the requirement that employers negotiate with the union over any actions they take in response to this crisis. In many local unions, this has meant expanded leave policies, alternate work assignments, expanded health and safety protections, and continuation of pay during school closures.
Even at home with schools and businesses closed, the union connects us and makes us stronger. Local unions are working with employers across the state to protect the health and safety of our members and communities. CFT is also working with state officials to protect public health and continually provide guidance and advice on education issues both administrative and pedagogical.
Do I have to use sick leave for the time that our school is closed?
No school employee should be forced to take sick leave in response to a school closure. Governor Newsom’s March 13 executive order maintained funding for K-12 schools through the 2019-20 year, and a similar funding maintenance is now in place for community colleges. The stated intent of these measures is to maintain regular pay for employees during the current emergency measures. Please contact your local union or CFT Field Representative if you are being forced to use sick leave as a result of a school closure and denied access to other available leaves.
Are we still being paid during school closures? What do I do if I contract COVID-19, care for an ill family member, or have to quarantine myself? How do I address childcare needs if I’m required to work? What can my union do to help me in the midst of this crisis?
To address these concerns (and many more), we have been vigorous in our advocacy for our members with the state government and by helping local unions negotiate new agreements directly with employers.
Governor Newsom’s March 13th Executive Order maintained funding for K-12 schools through the 2019-20 year, and a similar funding maintenance is now in place for community colleges. The stated intent of these measures is to maintain regular pay for employees during the current emergency measures. Federal relief passed in early March also made an additional two weeks of paid emergency leave available to most of our members, to be used prior to any accrued sick leave.
These federal and state actions allowed us to develop and negotiate agreements with many employers across California to address these concerns directly. Many local unions have secured agreements that maintain pay in the event of closures, utilize paid administrative leave for illness related to COVID-19, and provide expanded leave provisions for illness and childcare challenges. Even without a new agreement, the Education Code provides all school employees five months of partial (differential) pay if they exhaust all their paid leave but remain ill. Ask your local union about any recent agreements reached with your employer, and have them contact their CFT Field Representative if assistance is needed securing these terms for your district.
I heard there is a possibility of schools being closed for the rest of the school year. Will our pay and benefits really be maintained until then?
No one can say at this point when schools will open, and when public health directives to stay at home will be lifted. Some districts have already announced closures through May 1. We are very fortunate that Governor Newsom’s March 13th Executive Order maintained funding for K-12 schools through the 2019-20 year, with similar funding maintenance now in place for community colleges. The stated purpose of these measures is to maintain regular pay for employees during the current emergency measures, and through the remainder of the 2019-20 school year. Keep in mind that most school employees will be working during this time, whether remotely or at school and campus sites.
Can I collect unemployment from my full-time high school teacher job if I hold a part-time essential job since I depend on two incomes?
Yes. You may be eligible for a normal UI claim, but if the job loss was COVID-19 related, you would also be eligible under the new pandemic assistance rules
I had two jobs and lost one. Then the job I’m still working at is my most recent employer and there is no reason for unemployment.
You can receive “partial unemployment” benefits. If you lost a job or income as a result of COVID-19, you would still be eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.
I apply for a seasonal summer position every year. There is no reason to believe that I would not be hired for the position. But this summer, the program is likely to be cancelled due to COVID-19. I am losing expected and promised employment, but I haven’t officially been hired for the position yet. Do I qualify for benefits? How would I categorize this job loss?
If it was customarily part of your regular income that has been lost due to COVID-19, you would probably qualify as long as you meet the other eligibility requirements. You can file for unemployment after you finish your last day of work.
I lost my summer class because of COVID-19, but I had not yet received my tentative contract. Can I still choose COVID-19?
You must wait to file until after you have completed your last paid day of class/work.
If I am a part-time worker whose work was ended due to COVID-19, but am being paid my sick time pay by my employer, when can I apply for UI? Do I put my last day of work on the claim, or the last day I receive my sick pay?
You cannot receive UI while on paid leave. You can only file after you are no longer being paid.
Do teachers need to certify benefits biweekly during the summer?
Typically, K-12 teachers can’t draw summer benefits because their salary isn’t decreased. The same is true for full-time faculty. Part-time faculty are eligible for benefits over the summer in most cases because they have no “reasonable expectation of employment” in the fall.
I am a part-time faculty member at three community colleges. If only one of my community colleges cuts my counseling hours (but my hours remain the same at my other two colleges), I will I be able to still apply for unemployment. Is that correct?
We believe you are correct, especially if the reduction in hours is due specifically to COVID-19 related problems.
To qualify for the $600 additional unemployment benefit, you must be out of work due to the crisis, correct? Part-time faculty will be laid off at the end of the spring semester, as we are in “normal” times. Assuming we have not lost a summer class due to the coronavirus, we cannot legitimately claim that $600. Is that correct?
No. The $600 is being added to ALL unemployment benefits, whether you qualify for “normal” UI or the new expanded pandemic assistance.
Do we have to do anything special on our continue claim form to receive the added special funds available?
No. If you are eligible for UI or PUA benefits, the $600 will be added to your regular benefit.
I’m looking at the process for reopening a claim on the EDD website, I see that in the dropdown answers for “Why are you no longer working for this employer?” among the choices are “Laid off due to Lack of Work” and “Laid off due to Lack of Work—Related to the coronavirus.” Won’t the answer to that affect eligibility for the $600 expansion?
No. The $600 is also applied to all “regular” unemployment benefits.
With the flat $600 on top of the usual weekly amount, is it possible that someone would receive more in benefits than they earned before they lost their job?
That may be possible for some people, particularly part-time faculty and substitutes.
During the school year I work part-time as a substitute teacher to supplement my income. I was recently furloughed at my primary job due to COVID-19, and I qualify for unemployment. The EDD website explains that my work search requirements are met if I am “registered with a union and meet its reporting and dispatch requirements.” Does this mean that belonging to this union satisfies the requirement to search for work every week?
No. That EDD language is geared for construction trades hiring halls and other unions that have hiring halls where work is assigned to members. As long as you expect to be re-employed in the coming months once the pandemic has passed, you also do not need to be actively searching for work as normally required. You do still have to be physically able and available to work, per the customary requirements.
I moved and was going to apply for substitute teaching positions at the district in my new location, but haven’t been hired yet due to the schools closing. Do I qualify?
You would most likely qualify for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, yes.
I am a carpentry instructor in the carpenters union but work for the training center. Under my usual occupation, do I file as an instructor or a carpenter?
You should file as an instructor.
Is an independent contractor or self-employed qualified for unemployment?
Yes, this was the biggest change. Self-employed and gig workers are now eligible for an unemployment benefit under Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).
I teach in a charter school — do all these changes apply to charters like mine?
Charter schools are considered Local Educational Agencies under the regulations crafted by the California Department of Education, and the Executive Order that maintains funding for the 2019-20 school year with the intent of paying employees applies to all LEAs.
What testing was suspended by the governor’s executive order? Is AP testing included in the waiver? Does the testing moratorium include LPAC and PE test?
Executive Order N-30-20 signed on March 17 suspends the following standardized testing:
- Summative ELPAC testing (an initial ELPAC may still be required if schools reopen)
- Physical Fitness Test (until students return to school)
- California High School Proficiency Exam for March was cancelled
- High school equivalency testing on hold until testing centers reopen
We do not have new information to share about AP testing. Additional information can be found on the CDE website.
A lot of our families do not have proper digital technology at home. Are there any immediate plans to address this socio-economic disparity? Is there state money for this or a storehouse of equipment available? What is being offered to teachers and families for internet and devices?
We understand this is a significant issue and so does the state of California. Discussions are ongoing between state agencies and education organizations to find workable solutions to In recognition of this, many internet providers have offered free or low-cost internet to families in need for at least the next 30-60 days. This California Dept. of Education webpage is just one place that lists available services.
Districts may not be able to rely on e-learning alone to provide instruction in communities where students lack the necessary equipment. There is no way to quickly obtain and distribute the necessary devices to every student in need. Alternate forms of instruction may be required in situations where e-learning cannot be delivered to all students. The CDE has produced substantial guidance.
CFT has long supported equal access to technology that students and faculty need, including broadband access at school and at home. We have repeatedly advocated for the funding necessary to provide technology and training to every student and every teacher. We would be able to utilize e-learning platforms today if our schools had received the funding and support needed. During this crisis, we will work around the socio-economic disparities in our communities the best we can. Our members will meet the challenges in front of us now, just as we do every day.
Is there any new information on how this will affect special education teachers?
Everyone involved with education appreciates the challenges that school closures poses for delivering special education and meeting IDEA requirements. This is a complicated matter, and new information is provided frequently through the CDE. The SPED Guidance Memo released on March 20 is the most comprehensive to date, but there are frequent updates. Check the CDE’s Covid-19 website for additional resources and future updates.
How do we ensure that our school district complies with federal law (IDEA) with school closures, and how are students with IEPs supposed to receive services?
This remains a challenge for most school districts. The Department of Education has not waived IDEA requirements, but it is not clear how to meet IDEA requirements, or comply with IEPs in the current circumstances when schools are closed. There is considerable information on the CDE website that addresses this specifically, including a SPED Guidance Memo released on March 20. CFT is continuing to work with the CDE to clarify requirements and offer additional guidance to school staff.
Are there resources for special ed distance learning preschool programs? If so, what are they and how will we access them?
The CDE has been working with many education organizations to provide additional resources to school staff in order to support distance learning. There is considerable information on the CDE website that addresses this specifically, including a SPED Guidance Memo released on March 20 (see question #10 in particular). CFT is continuing to work with the CDE to offer additional guidance to school staff.
Are substitute teachers entitled to any compensation during school closures? What are we supposed to do without any work or income?
No specific classification of school employee was addressed in the Governor’s Executive Order to maintain funding for schools in 2019-20. By maintaining school funding, the intent was to maintain salaries and benefits for all employees. Substitutes are not always considered regular employees by districts, and some have excluded them from salary arrangements during school closures. Some local unions have been able to reach agreements for substitute payments based on current long-term assignments or average weekly hours. Check with your local union for details.
You may be eligible for two weeks of pay under the new federal emergency leave provisions (FFCRA) based on the number of hours you would reasonably have expected to work during the closure. This new federal leave is required of most employers. We also recommend that you apply immediately for unemployment payments through EDD, which has expanded their eligibility during this crisis. The federal stimulus bill (still being debated on March 25) would enhance unemployment significantly.
Covered California has also re-opened enrollment for anyone who needs (or who has lost) their health benefits as a result of the pandemic. We have actively supported all of these measures to help the millions of Californians suddenly out of work, including any members who may have been left out of negotiated agreements and state orders.
Are classified who are working now getting extra hazard or danger pay?
A few local unions have been able to secure small pay differentials for employees who are required to work, but there is no additional funding for hazard pay and this may not be possible in many districts. The Governor’s orders to stay at home explicitly exclude “essential workers”, defined as those employees necessary “to maintain continuity of operation of the federal critical infrastructure sectors, critical government services, schools, childcare, and construction, including housing construction.”
While school employees can be required to continue working, you are also entitled to a safe and healthy workplace to the greatest degree possible under the circumstances. Where employees continue working, we have helped local unions negotiate stronger health and safety language that mandates appropriate cleaning materials and safety protocols. If our schools are unsafe for employees, they are also unsafe for students. Districts should take every possible precaution to ensure our schools remain safe.
Why are maintenance and operations still expected to continue working during school closures, when no students are present?
The Governor’s Executive Order on March 13 allowed schools to continue receiving their full funding, with the express intent of being able to continue paying school employees. This is a tremendous accomplishment, as it protects our jobs and pay even while unemployment is soaring in our communities.
The same order requires schools to provide services during a school closure. For teachers, this means remote instruction. For classified employees, it means providing school meals and being able to arrange supervision of students during regular school hours. This means the site has to be prepared for possible student supervision, even if students are currently learning remotely.
CFT has been working with classified local unions to narrow the definition of “essential workers” so that only the employees truly needed will be required to work. At the very least, this would include custodians and food service employees. It may also include some maintenance and ops workers, and could in the future include staff to provide student supervision.
Remember that we are public employees and provide vital services that our students and communities depend on. This is particularly true when families are losing jobs, have no child care support, and face food insecurity. We will continue to be fierce advocates for the health and safety of our members, and to make sure that our schools remain safe for both ourselves and our students.
Will this pandemic change the possibility of classified employees having an option to apply for temporary unemployment during this summer recess since classified haven’t had an option to apply for unemployment in the past?
The Classified School Employee Summer Assistance program exists to provide pay over the summer months for classified employees. You would most likely not be eligible for unemployment, because you have not lost any income relative to your usual assignment. Unemployment benefits are only provided if you lose employment income due to layoff or a reduction in hours.
Will adult education instructors be able to keep their salary and benefits?
Yes, adult educators can maintain their salary and benefits on the same basis as other school employees in either the K-12 or community college systems. Specific terms are subject to negotiations between the district and the union representing adult educators, and vary between employers. All should maintain salaries and benefits through the end of the 2019-20 school year.
What are the plans for the community colleges in general? Do the governor’s executive orders or other legislation provide direction for continuing instruction and maintaining salaries and assignments during closures?
Education Code (Title 5, section 58146) provides continuity of apportionment in the event of emergencies, and Student Centered Funding Formula (SCFF) “hold-harmless” funding has already been guaranteed through 2021-22.
The Chancellor’s Office began releasing guidance memos on March 20 that provide additional information as it becomes available. Our Union Toolkit contains summary updates. Also watch the Chancellor’s Office coronavirus page for more updates sign up for email updates.
Our members include faculty who teach courses such as nursing, welding and ceramics. These courses require clinical rotations, labs, and workshops that cannot easily transition online. Will I still be paid for the classes I was scheduled to teach now, and what happens to these classes in the future? What do I tell my students?
The chancellor has posted guidance memos following our questions about nursing programs and “hard to convert” courses, which you can find at the state Chancellor’s office website (cccco.edu) or linked to on our CFT online toolkit – Guidance – BRN Requirements for Nursing Clinical Hours.
Colleges are strongly encouraged to find ways to continue offering coursework to support essential sectors like nursing. Discussions are ongoing now between the Chancellor’s office, the Governor, and the State Board of Nursing about ways to meet clinical requirements in our state of emergency. We may ask for your help to ensure that our students are able to meet their requirements and assist on the front lines fighting the pandemic.
The Chancellor also recommends temporarily suspending, but not cancelling, other courses that cannot be transitioned online. They are working to find online platforms that can accommodate lab requirements. The chancellor has posted a guidance memo for “hard-to-convert” classes. Here’s the link to the memo in our Union Toolkit — Preliminary Guidance for Hard-to-Convert Courses.
Because community colleges are able to maintain their funding for the year under emergency provisions, there will be no loss in revenue and they will remain able to pay all faculty and staff for courses that are already underway.
With our support, many local unions have negotiated emergency agreements that explicitly maintain pay for all faculty through the end of the school year. Check with your local union to see what terms they’ve negotiated for your college.
Are we going to allow students to repeat classes instead of limiting repeatability?
We don’t know yet, but the CFT agrees that would be a good idea and has supported course repeatability in general.
Is there any info available for lecturers and librarians at UC?
Please visit the comprehensive toolkit prepared by UC-AFT for helpful workplace information and updates.
How does this crisis affect our CalSTRS service credit?
There’s no adverse impact to a member’s service credit, as long as the district continues to pay employees during school closures. Generally speaking, leave that is paid should not have an impact on service credit. Find more info in this CalSTRS Circular in our Union Toolkit — Effects of School Closures due to COVID-19.
How this will affect the benefits of already retired teachers? Are teachers’ pensions at risk? And are they going to pay them until the end of the year?
From CalSTRS: Due to the State of California’s response to COVID-19, statements for direct deposit will not be printed and mailed for March. Retirees and beneficiaries will still receive their benefits via direct deposit. Members receiving paper-only payments will continue to receive a check. However, we ask you to consider opting into direct deposit for your April.
Is the teacher retirement fund stable?
From CalSTRS: CalSTRS is a long-term investor, and we think in terms of decades—not days, weeks or months. The CalSTRS investment portfolio is broadly diversified in order to respond to periods of market volatility and uncertainty. Our members’ retirement benefits continue to be secure.