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We are facing an unprecedented crisis with the COVID-19 virus rapidly spreading throughout New Jersey, our surrounding region, and throughout the country. During this crisis, NJPSA is committed to ensuring that our members, as the grassroots leaders of New Jersey’s public schools, are fully protected and never put into unnecessary danger as we respond to the COVID-19 epidemic.  Having heard concerns from members across the State, we have developed this guidance document to provide clear direction on when and how NJPSA members should be required to physically report to work. Those members who are unnecessarily being asked or required to report to the worksite without proper justification are urged to contact NJPSA’s Legal Department for assistance at njpsa@njpsa.org .

By way of Executive Orders issued over the past week Governor Murphy has closed all public and private schools and has ordered virtually all businesses to close their doors. The Governor’s Orders, all taken to mitigate to the extent possible the spread of the Coronavirus, have carved out only limited discreet exceptions to the Orders’ near total stay-at-home requirements. Those exceptions are limited to public safety, fire, and health care personnel, and other personnel needed to carry out essential services. 

Moreover, Executive Order No. 107 issued by Governor Murphy on March 20, 2020 ordered that all businesses and nonprofits are to accommodate their workforce, wherever practicable, for telework or work-from-home arrangements. The Order also states that if businesses or nonprofits have employees that must be on site to carry out critical services, they must nevertheless keep to a minimum the number of staff necessary to ensure that critical operations continue.

We are all in uncharted territory. To get through this crisis we have to work together. The following guidance is intended to assist school districts to carry out essential services for their communities in this critical period.  Where this guidance is not being followed, NJPSA members should immediately contact NJPSA’s Legal Department for assistance.

Executive  Order No. 107 allows business or non- profits, including our schools, to call necessary employees to carry out essential services. Those essential services basically are to provide : (1) equitable access to instruction for all students; (2) nutrition benefits or services to eligible students; (3) technological assistance to students and teachers alike for on-line curriculum and instruction; (4) provision for appropriate special education and related services;  (5) such ancillary services that are necessary to maintain the school buildings and grounds, and (6) to engage in proper maintenance of school equipment and supplies.  

Except for food distribution, with the proper utilization of technology and strategic planning, the vast majority of these essential functions can be performed by school personnel working remotely.. Examples of where a minimal number of school personnel may need to report to a worksite include:

  • Critical building maintenance (such as boiler maintenance)
  • Limited school grounds maintenance
  • School cleaning on a limited schedule (as needed to address the limited usage of schools)
  • Responding to technology issues such as server maintenance  that require the physical presence of technology maintenance workers in order to continue essential remote services
  • Occasional need to retrieve physical files of students or staff in order to address emergent issues, where there is no access to electronic files and the issues in question require immediate attention

There are many services that are essential but can be effectively done remotely, and do not require physical presence at the worksite. They include:

  • Responding to inquiries from parents, students, vendors or other stakeholders regarding district functions
  • Conducting administrative team meetings
  • Developing or submitting required reports
  • Tasks that are appropriately performed by law enforcement personnel such as crowd or traffic control.

Where essential functions must be performed onsite, school districts must ensure that appropriate protocols are in place to reduce the potential danger of virus transmission.  These principles include:

  • Limiting instances of contact or near contact (within 6 feet) (e.g., food distribution should be conducted through controlled vehicle drive up or other methodologies that ensure that school employees never need to come within 6 feet of parents or students who are picking up the food)
  • Ensuring that all staff who are required to report to the worksite have received appropriate training on relevant protocols from the CDC, NJ Department of Health and other appropriate government agencies in order to reduce the risk of exposure.

In order to ensure that school districts are taking all necessary steps to only require the minimal number of school personnel necessary to report to their workplace, the NJDOE recently notified all school districts that their COVID-19 response plans should be revised to explicitly address essential personnel (role— function/work stream— justification) late last week.  Each district plan should now clearly indicate those specific functions that cannot be performed remotely and the personnel that are needed. Those plans should now clearly identify the specific functions that require personnel to be present, the minimal number of personnel necessary to perform those functions and the measures being taken, in accordance with relevant CDC, NJ Department of Health and other relevant government agency guidelines to ensure the safety and well-being of all staff who are required to report to a worksite.

In developing their plans, the following considerations should be clearly addressed.

1. Chief school administrators need to allow their administrative staff to work remotely from their homes except for those personnel who are needed to be at their worksites to provide essential or critical services.  

2. Chief school administrators who require their administrative personnel to be at their worksites need to define the essential functions that require their presence and why such functions cannot be performed remotely.  Any function that can be performed remotely must be performed remotely.  

3. Administrative or other personnel deemed to be at high risk of contracting the Coronavirus due to age and/or underlying medical conditions need to be provided the reasonable accommodation of being able to work remotely without charge to sick days, personal days or vacation days.  

4. Administrators or other staff who have symptoms of the Coronavirus, including coughs, fever or shortness of breath should (1) seek immediate medical assistance by calling their physician and (2) must self-quarantine for at least 14 days. 

5. Chief school administrators need to report any personnel within the district who are symptomatic of the Coronavirus to all other personnel who the infected employee may have been in contact with, so that such personnel can take necessary precautionary measures. 

6. Chief school administrators need to report to appropriate school and health officials any personnel employed by the district who tests positive for the Coronavirus, and are to work in coordination with health officials to provide appropriate information to parents, students or others who may have been in contact with the infected employee.

7. Parents and students need to be advised that in any case where there is reason to believe that a student or member of the student’s household has been exposed to Coronavirus, that the parent is to immediately advise the school so that appropriate measures may be taken to ensure the continuation of nutrition services and other essential services for the student without having any potential exposure of school personnel or others that could result if those parents continued to physically come to school sites to access nutrition services.