As a classroom/student paraprofessional, what will my role be with the implementation of distance learning?
It depends on your local school system. As a paraprofessional, you may be asked to virtually collaborate with the classroom teacher or special educator to modify instructional materials for your assigned students, you may be asked to perform tasks that may be outside of your normal job responsibilities, you may be asked to participate in some form of “virtual” professional development; or you may remain in a pending status until your school system works through implementation of the continuity of learning plan.
In the case that you are assigned tasks, virtually or in a worksite, we are attempting to negotiate provisions including:
i. An employee may take such leave, without fear of retaliation or retribution, if the employee meets any of the following qualifying conditions:
ii. An employee unable to work for any of the qualifying conditions set forth above shall be granted paid COVID-19-related medical leave until such time as the qualifying condition no longer applies. No employee shall be charged or docked with use of a sick day or days when they miss work for a qualifying condition.
In all cases, we are advocating for all employees to remain in a paid status, regardless of whether or not the employee is reporting to a physical work site or has been actively assigned. The continuation of pay and benefits through the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year is a top priority. Thus far, we have been successful in obtaining commitments from all systems to maintain regular pay and benefits for non-certificated bargaining units through the period of the current mandated closure.
That said, not all employee classifications will be treated the same relative to work assignments. Some work is deemed essential in the collective bargaining agreement, such as food service (in certain locations) and custodial and maintenance. These employees will be required to continue to work and report to a site, as this work is not eligible for telework. Secretaries may be asked to report to the building to gather supplies and materials in order to telework. Computer techs are likely going to be tasked with reporting to the building to prepare and distribute electronic devices to staff and students. All of this is permitted during this time, however, the time worked by the various classifications must be tracked and considered time worked under the work day/work hour requirements of the negotiated agreement. This tracking is very important in the event that the school year or school day is modified or extended. In returning to the school buildings, again, we anticipate that health and safety measures will be taken as well as adherence to social distancing protocols.
Am I eligible for unemployment benefits?
Congress recently enacted the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). It contains sweeping emergency unemployment insurance benefits for individuals affected by the pandemic. So long as boards of education maintain employees on a paid status, however, individuals are not eligible for unemployment benefits.
Notably, there are provisions of the CARES Act that would provide funding to states that choose to implement a Short-Time Compensation program for employers that reduce their employees’ hours in lieu of a lay-off and whereby the employees would receive a pro-rated unemployment benefit. While Maryland does provide for partial unemployment benefits, it does not appear that it qualifies currently as a Short-Time Compensation program as defined in the Internal Revenue Code.
Finally, unemployment is not a viable option for many of our members because it would result in a loss of health insurance. For that additional reason, we strongly advocate for continued pay and benefits.
If you have questions about the information above or questions, please contact your local association UniServ director.