COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions (Educators)

Question and Answers for Teachers in Pennsylvania Regarding Remote Instruction

Schools in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will be closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year due to the COVID-19 outbreak. As a result, educators are looking for guidance on how to navigate the world of online instruction. The following Questions and Answers are intended to provide some guidance regarding the most commonly asked questions we have received over the past few weeks. This document will be updated on our website as the crisis evolves and additional issues are brought to our attention. Educators requiring specific or more detailed answers or guidance should contact their union representative.

My school district is requiring me to engage in face-to-face instruction with students through online platforms. Am I at risk of violating the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) during online instruction?

No. FERPA imposes obligations on school entities, not teachers. A teacher cannot individually violate FERPA. Teachers engaging in remote instruction should strictly comply with any school district policy or guidance regarding remote instruction. If a school entity fails to provide teachers with guidance on protecting privacy during online instruction, teachers should raise this concern with their supervisor and union representative.

My school district is requiring me to record online sessions with students. Am I permitted to do this?

In most cases, yes. It is best practice for school districts not to record online instruction, and a teacher should not record an online session unless directed by the school district to do so. However, some school entities may want to record certain class sessions so that students not in attendance are able to review the recording. In these circumstances, teachers should strictly comply with the directives given to them by their school entity.

In a situation where a teacher is directed to record a session with a single student, school entities should provide notice to the parents or guardians that the meeting will be recorded prior to recording. Teachers should contact their union representative if they are being directed to record a session with a single student without providing notice that the session will be recorded to the student's parent or guardian.

What should I do if, while engaged in synchronous learning through an online platform, I witness something that could amount to child abuse or neglect?

Report. Teachers are mandatory reporters under the Child Protective Services Law. Regardless of how a teacher comes to suspect child abuse, the law requires an immediate oral report of suspected child abuse via the Statewide toll-free telephone number ChildLine at 1-800-932-0313. After making the report, teachers should contact their supervisor and inform them of the report and the underlying concern.

Can a teacher mute a student or remove him/her from the conference if the student misbehaves or otherwise interferes with the learning process?

Yes. Student discipline is handled the same way in an online environment as it is in school. Teachers engaged in online instruction must "exert reasonable effort to protect ... student[s] from conditions which interfere with learning." 22 Pa. Code ยง 235.4(10). If a student is overly disrupting the learning process, the student can be removed and referred to administration, just as he or she would in the physical classroom.

Can I be evaluated based on my performance during online instruction.

Maybe. Many local education associations are actively consulting and negotiating with school districts on how evaluation will operate during the spring of 2020 term. In some districts, observation of remote instruction will be considered as one of multiple inputs that goes into an evaluation. In others, school district and local associations are agreeing that remote instruction will not be considered. If a teacher believes her employer is issuing a rating without sufficient evidence, she should contact a union representative.

I am a temporary professional employee and need a satisfactory evaluation for 2020 to achieve tenure. How will I be rated if my school entity is unable to complete an evaluation?

If an employer is unable to complete an evaluation for a professional or temporary professional employee during the 2019-2020 school year, the absence of an evaluation is determined to be a satisfactory rating.

My school entity is directing me to hold one-on-one meetings with students in addition to class sessions. What should I do?

The Professional Standards and Practices Commission (PSPC), an independent body associated with the Pennsylvania Department of Education, has taken the remarkable step of recommending that teachers engaged in remote instruction "[a]void one-to-one interactions with students in any forum, whether an on-line meeting room such as Zoom, by telephone, by email, etc." The PSPC's recommendation is likely unworkable for many teachers. If a school entity directs a teacher to hold one-on-one meetings, the teacher should follow the school's directive. A teacher should maintain professional boundaries in the same way as he or she would if school was open.