Do I have to work during the shutdown?

The Oklahoma State Board of Education enacted a statewide shutdown of public schools this week, and this unprecedented decision has left many members with questions. 

One of the most common questions we’ve received from members this week: Can a district require an employee to come to work during the statewide shutdown? 

The answer is it depends.

Even though the State Department of Education has told administrators not to call in employees for non-essential work, we are hearing reports from across the state of district leaders scheduling staff meetings and other activities. 

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister sent a letter to Oklahoma superintendents this week clarifying this issue: 

If the district is requiring certified staff to perform instructional services, as referenced in the SDE FAQ’s below, then the answer is no, a district cannot require you to perform those duties during the school closure.

If the district has identified you as essential personal and requests that you work during the school closure performing those duties that are generally described as essential services, as referenced in the SDE FAQ’s below, then the answer is yes, they can required you to perform those duties during the school closure.

If the district is requesting that you perform other duties during the school closure that are not identified in the SDE FAQ’s below, the answer is probably – but will vary depending on the context of the request and duties. 

Requests to check on students during the school closure, review/revise lesson plans in anticipation of school re-opening, requests to review/revise curriculum in anticipation of a shortened school year will all be dependent on specific circumstances in your particular school district.

What should I do if I am requested to perform work that is or may be prohibited by the SDE order closing schools? 

You may want to point out the SDE FAQ’s section on what school districts should and should not be requiring of certified staff during the school closure and seek an understanding of why the request is being made. If the district persists in directing you to perform those duties during the school closure period, you should contact your Regional Advocacy Specialist for help in determining if the request is inappropriate or contrary to the SDE recommendations and for further assistance in communicating your concerns to the administration of the school district.

If you need guidance, OEA members can always contact their advocates. (Need to find your OEA advocate? Check out the regions of the state to find your specific advocate or find him/her on the OEA contact page.)

Here is the recent guidance document from the Oklahoma State Department of Education

What is included in "operations" that must be ceased?

“All instructional services, grading and extracurricular activities, staff development, trainings and conferences must cease. However, essential clerical and administrative activities such as business management (i.e, encumbrance clerk, human resources, fiscal services, governance), nutrition services and maintenance may continue as needed. Even with a cessation of operations until April 6, there are certain campus functions and services that may continue during this period."
Oklahoma State Department of Education
FAQ Document Released March 17

Does the order to cease operational closures prohibit a school district from compelling staff to attend or be present at school?

"Yes. The Board’s order only authorizes essential clerical and administrative activities and services to continue during the period of closure. While each determination of what is “essential clerical and administrative activities” is a local decision, examples of this may be business management (i.e, encumbrance clerk, human resources, fiscal services and governance), nutrition services and maintenance may continue as needed. For additional information, please see the question and answer relating to the payment of support employees during the period of closure."
Oklahoma State Department of Education
FAQ Document Released March 17

If the work isn’t “essential,” remind your administrator that the State Department of Education said to “cease operations” that are not “essential clerical, administrative, and business activities.” 

What qualifies as “essential” in a school district? 

Long story short, the local school administration has broad discretion in determining what essential services need to be provided and identifying the personnel to provide them. 

Teachers cannot be required to come to work to perform instruction or related services. If teachers are identified as essential personnel to perform essential services, or if teachers are asked to perform other tasks for the district during the school closure, they should contact their advocacy specialist.  

Support professionals may be called into work. The state allows for districts to continue working with essential staff, such as financial clerks, maintenance employees, school boards, administrators, and other positions. This will be determined by individual districts.