July 17, 2020

Employer Uncertainty Looms From Today’s Requirement for Most Schools to Remain Closed

Update: On August 3, 2020, the California Department of Public Health explained how an elementary school (i.e., transitional kindergarten to 6th grade) may be considered for a waiver to re-open in-person instruction. The department explained that prior to applying for the waiver, the applicant “must (1) consult with labor, parent, and community organizations, and (2) publish elementary school reopening plans on the website of the local educational agency (or equivalent).” The department further noted that the waiver application forms will be provided by local health officers and should be submitted to the local health officers 14 days prior to the desired reopening date.

Update: On July 17, 2020, the California Department of Public Health announced a single exception to the school shutdowns—an elementary school in a county on the monitoring list within the last 14 days may reopen if local health officers grant a waiver.

This promises to be the year that requires businesses to be highly adaptable in meeting staffing needs while supporting employees with school-age children. In today’s press conference, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced schools in counties on the Blueprint for a Safer Economy list may not physically reopen school campuses for in-person instruction this coming fall until certain criteria are met. This mandate is applicable to private and public schools.

There are currently 32 counties (roughly 80% of the California population) on the County Data Monitoring list. A map of counties currently on the County Data Monitoring list is available on the County Variance Info website. School campuses may be reopened for in-class instruction only when their county has been off the County Data Monitoring list for 14 days.

Employers should consider whether affected employees will be eligible for paid leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which allows employees to receive up to 12 weeks of paid leave for being “unable to work due to a bona fide need for leave to care for a child whose school or child care provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19” and other supplemental, location-based paid time off ordinances.

Shortly after Newsom’s announcement, the California Department of Public Health released a news alert for COVID-19 and Reopening In-Person Learning. The news alert echoes Governor Newsom’s announcement: “Schools and school districts may reopen for in-person instruction at any time if they are located in a local health jurisdiction (LHJ) that has not been on the county monitoring list within the prior 14 days.” The news alert also provides parameters for when a school or a district must close for in-person instruction due to the level of COVID-19 spread within the school or district.

California industry guidance for Child Care, Day Camps, and Schools were all updated today to reflect the California Department of Public Health’s reopening guidance and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Considerations for Schools.

We are in an unprecedented time. Employers must be forward thinking and creative to ensure a productive workforce, while protecting themselves from future liability. Contact Payne & Fears LLP if you have any questions.