As you prepare your classrooms with supplies, fun stimuli, and all the accoutrements of a cozy room for fostering learning and creativity, let’s hope you also have time to prepare for the 2021-2022 school year mentally; not just for the continued repetitive phrases of “unprecedented times” and “socially distanced,” but also for the difficult decisions and choices you may face in and out of the classroom.
Although, many schools had reached maximum capacity and limited or altogether abandoned masking by end-of-year this spring, many districts are now reconsidering these policies for a new school year amidst the new Delta variant of COVID-19 and its likely successors. For educators, this could mean continued or renewed policies requiring masking, vaccination, social distancing, and even remote teaching. While most public school educators are contract employees with due process rights, districts are nevertheless able to require their employees to wear masks and provide proof of vaccination with very limited exception. This means that unless you have deeply held religious beliefs which prevent you from masking or vaccination, or you have a disability recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), you will face discipline up to and including termination if you fail to comply with your district’s masking and vaccination policies.
If you have a disability under the ADA, such a respiratory disability, that prevents you from wearing a mask, you should request a reasonable accommodation from your district as soon as possible. Although, your district is not required to accommodate you if it causes the district an undue hardship, they are required to engage with you in good faith to determine if a reasonable accommodation can be made. This process requires sufficient documentation from your doctor, and sometimes creative ideas for accommodations that suit you and simultaneously do not create a hardship for your district.
An educator’s refusal to comply with district policies can not only lead to discipline from the district, but it could also lead to an investigation and discipline by the Ohio Department of Education (“ODE”). For instance, if a district threatens to terminate an educator for violating a masking policy, and the educator resigns under that threat of termination, the district must report that resignation to ODE. ODE will then initiate an investigation of the educator for a violation of the Licensure Code of Professional Conduct. During the pendency of that investigation, educators are unable to renew their credentials, and could face limitation, suspension, or even revocation of licensure. As such, we highly recommend that educators facing discipline in their districts reach out to counsel as soon as possible, not only to protect their due process rights in the district, but also to help them build the best defense possible against an ODE investigation.