MEA Advocates for Support, Pay, Flexibility and more
As educators around the state settle into what is now the “new normal” for our schools, jobs and students, MEA is working to ensure our students, school employees and all our families are both safe and taken care of during these unprecedented times. In addition to providing resources to support distance learning, the MEA advocated for several key items that both support our educators and students during this time. Below are the key issues the Association advocated for to help our members and students.
School Days/Attendance Waiver
MEA asked the Commissioner of Education on March 16th, and she agreed almost immediately, to be very flexible in terms of waiving the number of required school days. The official notification from the DOE to waive the minimum number of days came out on the twenty-fifth of March. How many days each district attends for the year, so far, is something the MDOE says can be decided locally.
Hourly Employee Pay Secured
During this difficult time, MEA worked to ensure our hourly employees continue to get paid. On March 16th the MEA raised this issue with the Commissioner and the Governor’s office. Three days later, Governor Mills issued an Executive Order requiring school districts to continue to pay their hourly employees for the remainder of the school year. MEA advocated for this measure from the beginning of the school closure announcements and is grateful the Governor put this provision in place. This executive order protects your pay for what would be your normal, regular hours if the school year was not impacted by COVID-19. Your scheduled hours during the school closure and what work is performed, absences and sick leave are all decided locally per contract or by agreement.
Standardized Testing Suspended
After the initial closures of schools happened, and MEA knew our members would receive pay, the Association worked with the MDOE to ensure standardized tests would be suspended for the year. On March 25th, the Commissioner announced Maine applied for, and received, waivers that eliminate state assessment requirements for this year.
Certification Timeline Extended
MEA worked with the Department of Education to allow for an extension for teacher certifications that were set to expire in 2020. The new deadline announced by the DOE gives educators an extension of up to one year for renewal applications that have been impacted by COVID-19.
Teacher Evaluations Suspended
MEA recommended the PE/PG system in school districts be suspended, until further notice. It is clear the key elements of the PE/PG system may be unworkable given the lack of classroom instruction in our schools. MEA recommends all elements should be on hold until schools resume normal operations. MEA discussed this issue with the MDOE and as a result, the following information was released to educators on March 25th: “DOE will not hold SAUs accountable for compliance with state statute/regulations regarding professional growth / supervision & evaluation systems. Enforcement of locally developed and/or adopted policies, programs, and systems remain at the discretion of local SAUs.”
Pre-Service Teacher Requirements Loosened
MEA met virtually with our pre-service teachers to better understand the needs of these students. After that discussion, and conversations with the MDOE, the Department of Education has notified MEA it will modify requirements for any students in pre-service programs at public universities in Maine. The MDOE says in lieu of certain coursework, practicum, and/or internship requirements, DOE will accept recommendations from educator preparation programs regarding the qualifications of pre-service educators who are currently in an educator preparation program/certification program that has been disrupted by COVID-19.
Higher Education Advocacy
AFUM worked with the University of Maine System to come up with an agreement on several issues as the University navigates the changes during the move to online instruction on our campuses. AFUM & UMS agreed that there is no research expectation for this semester as faculty triage to meet multiple demands, caring for our students, colleagues, families and themselves. AFUM, UMPSA and ACSUM are currently working with MEA and NEA on behalf of all the higher education units regarding how federal legislation might positively impact the System, in terms of funding. This advocacy work could have a major impact on future potential furloughs/layoffs.
MEA advocated for members in the community college system to have pay and benefits secured throughout the semester. The Community College System was extremely accommodating and granted this request along with significant flexibility for the use of sick time and work location and time.
MEA understands the needs of our most vulnerable students. The Association worked with the Department of Education to express concerns with balancing meeting this need along with the reality of achieving all the requirements under IEPs. The Department of Education understands this and under the circumstances is allowing for flexibility as LEAs, educators, parents and students adjust to instruction outside of the traditional school setting. Should IEPs require changes due to steps taken by school districts to protect the health and safety of students during the COVID-19 outbreak, the IEP team should meet to address such changes. IEP Teams and parents may agree to conduct IEP meetings through alternate means other than in person (videoconferencing, conference call, etc.). The IEP Team may agree to not convene an IEP Team meeting for the purpose of making changes and instead develop a written document to amend or modify the current IEP. As always, educators must then follow any new IEP developed. It is important to note that a teacher is not responsible for being unable to follow an IEP plan that is no longer feasible. Compensatory services may be needed once school returns to normal.
During these times, MEA is grateful to have a Department of Education that is working with the Association and with educators in the field to meet the needs of our students and our educators. It will take us all working together to do our best for kids over the coming weeks and months.