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NCSBA Legislative Update – May 8, 2020

The Fight Against the Coronavirus

NCDHHS has reported 13,868 positive cases for COVID-19 in 99 counties, and 527 deaths from COVID-19 in North Carolina. Click here to access the NCDHHS webpage that keeps North Carolinians updated on the state’s response to the coronavirus. Additionally, NCSBA has been updating its webpage containing information and resources about the coronavirus.

 

This Week at the Legislature

On Monday, May 4 the NCSBA Governmental Relations team released a summary of the K-12 education sections of the COVID-19 session laws. Click here to access the summary.

Both the House and Senate did not hold sessions or committee meetings this week. The Education Working Group of the House Select Committee on COVID-19 is scheduled to virtually meet next Thursday, May 14 at 2:00 pm.

Workers’ Compensation Bills Filed

Several bills have been filed in the General Assembly addressing COVID-19 and Workers’ Compensation. NCSBA wants to call one of these bills to your attention.

HB 1057: WC/COVID-19 Front Line Coverage/Funds sponsored by Representatives Jackson (D-Wake), Boles (R-Moore), Setzer (R-Catawba), and R. Smith (D-Wayne) includes, unlike the other bills filed, extending workers’ compensation coverage to employees required to work during a pandemic for a business declared essential by executive order of the Governor or by order of a local governmental authority, including food service, retail, and other essential personnel. The Governor’s executive order includes K-12 public schools as an essential business for purposes of facilitating remote learning.

The bill adds pandemics to the list of reasons a worker can make a claim for workers’ compensation and places the burden of proof on the employer to demonstrate that the employee did not contract the associated disease while working. Specifically, the bill states that a “pandemic infection contracted by a covered person shall be presumed to be due to exposure in the course of the covered person’s employment.” The bill defines a covered person as “an employee required to work during a pandemic for a business declared essential by executive order of the Governor…”

While NCSBA is extremely supportive of all the efforts of school employees during this time,  this would create a very difficult if not impossible standard for school districts to deal with since COVID-19 is a virus that can be contracted in numerous ways and not necessarily while working. There is already coverage under the Workers’ Compensation Act that provides a fair opportunity for an employee diagnosed with COVID-19 to make a claim for benefits. It states that diseases shall be deemed to be an occupational disease “which is proven to be due to causes and conditions which are characteristic of and peculiar to a particular trade, occupation or employment…” Meaning, the employee just has to prove that it’s more likely than not that COVID-19 was contracted at work. Shifting the burden of proof on these claims to the employer will create additional and substantial costs to school districts, either paying the claims directly for those who are self-insured, paying an increased number of deductibles, and/or increased coverage premiums, if coverage is attainable.

NCSBA sent an email to the bill sponsors yesterday and will be sending a similar email to all members of the General Assembly no later than Monday. There is also a coalition of primarily business interests that has formed to work on this issue, which NCSBA has joined.

NCSBA School Technology Video Campaign

Please continue to support NCSBA’s efforts as we work with state leaders to produce a multi-year payment plan for school technology. Click here to access our two videos highlighting the current need for school technology and the General Assembly’s responsibility in addressing the issue.

 

State Board of Education Meeting – May 6 & 7

The State Board of Education met for their monthly meeting this week. Board members addressed the following:

  • Changes to the NC Public Schools Benefits and Employment Policy Manual
  • 2019-20 high school senior grading/graduation policies
  • CARES Act funding

The Board approved revisions made to the NC Public Schools Benefits and Employment Policy Manual. Click here to view the changes, which affect sick leave, teacher contracts, earnings cap, and rehiring high-need teachers.

Board discussion centered around the possibility of reversing previous Board action that implemented a pass/withdrawal grading system for seniors’ spring course grades, which differs from students in grades 9-11 who have the option of choosing to receive a numeric grade or a pass/withdrawal grade. DPI staff stated that their initial goals with this policy were to focus on students’ graduation from a statewide perspective and support the mental health of graduating seniors. Pushback came from Board members who supported giving students the option to receive a numeric grade or a pass/withdrawal grade for their spring courses. Other members and advisors expressed concern that this change might place a burden on school districts, teachers who have not been maintaining numeric grades, and students who have graduated early. The Board ultimately voted to maintain the current policy.

The Board approved policy amendments regarding the use of federal Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. ESSER fund allocations are made to school districts, charter, lab, regional, and innovative schools based on Title I, Part A funds received in the most recent fiscal year. Click here to see the estimated minimum allotments.

Click here for all meeting materials.

 

Following last week’s release of an audit of DPI’s handling of federal grants, State Auditor Beth Wood stated that DPI will have to repay $18 million in federal money. Click here to access an article about the $18 million mistake.

 

Governor’s Press Releases

  • On May 6
    • Governor Cooper announced appointments to the DRIVE Task Force, which focuses on matters of equity and inclusion within education. NC State Board of Education member and Hertford County school board member Wendell Hall, who also serves on both the NCSBA and NCSBAC Board of Directors, was appointed to the Task Force.
    • Governor Cooper reported that additional school busses will be used to provide internet access to students in underserved areas as they continue to participate in online school.
  • On May 5 Governor Cooper signed Executive Order 138, which modifies the stay at home order and makes Phase 1 of easing COVID-19 restrictions effective Friday, May 8 at 5:00 pm.
  • On May 4
  • On May 2 Governor Cooper shared a statement applauding the legislature’s passage of COVID-19 relief bills.

 

  

 

Leanne E. Winner
Director of Governmental Relations
N.C. School Boards Association
(919) 747-6686

Bruce Mildwurf
Associate Director of Governmental Relations
N.C. School Boards Association
(919) 747-6692

Richard Bostic
Assistant Director of Governmental Relations
N.C. School Boards Association
(919) 747-6677

Rebekah Howard
Governmental Relations Research Specialist
N.C. School Boards Association
(919) 747-6688

Rebekah HowardNCSBA Legislative Update – May 8, 2020