September 2017, Vol. 1

Hurricane Harvey frequently asked questions

Hurricane Harvey left a path of destruction along the Texas Gulf Coast and Houston that will require months or even years of rebuilding and recovery. Nearly 200,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed by the storm and many schools in the storm’s path will require significant clean-up or rebuilding to be functional. Some districts, such as Aransas County ISD, have said they will remain closed indefinitely because of the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey.
 
Districts in the impacted area are also dealing with issues related to transportation—floodwaters damaged hundreds of roads and bridges—immediate environmental and public health concerns, such as bacteria and contaminants in floodwaters, and future environmental concerns like mold growth.
 
TASB has gathered links to various information resources on a Hurricane Harvey Resource Page, and we at HR Services continue to field calls from staff in districts seeking guidance on issues related to the hurricane. Below are some of the most common questions we’ve received, along with answers and guidance from our consultants. We hope you find this information helpful, but remember you can always call (800.580.7782) or email us for additional help.
 
Q: Can we file a waiver with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) for days our district was closed because of the hurricane and recovery?

A: Yes. TEA issued a “To the Administrator Addressed” letter on August 29 indicating that Commissioner Mike Morath has authorized Missed School Day waivers in the impacted area that would not require the days to be made up at a later date. As of the date of the letter, the disaster declaration area included 58 counties. For those districts set to begin their school year the week of August 28, any scheduled instructional days missed from Monday, August 28 to Friday, September 1 are covered. For districts where the school year had already begun, the prior Friday, August 25 could be included, as well. Districts that remain closed beyond those dates should contact TEA directly to discuss other available options.

(New—9/13/2017) Districts that reduce the number of days of required service of contract employees subject to Texas Education Code (TEC) Chapter 21 without reducing pay must file an additional waiver with the commissioner (see information below regarding paying employees for the closure).

 
Q: Is our district eligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reimbursement for the time our staff spend cleaning up after the hurricane?

A: It depends. In their April 2017 Public Assistance Program and Policy Guide, FEMA provides detailed guidance on eligibility for federal assistance, including specific guidance beginning on page 24 of the document for “Eligibility Criteria Based on Type of Employee and Work Performed.” Districts should review the eligibility criteria with local counsel to determine whether their staff time/pay could qualify for reimbursement. The availability of funds for reimbursement after a disaster involves a case-by-case determination by FEMA.
 
Q: How do we handle paying employees for the time we were closed?

A: There are several issues that need to be considered, such as the length of time the district is closed, the employee’s exemption status under the Fair Labor Standards Act, and district policy (specifically DEA (LOCAL)). A complete discussion of the issues is available in the Texas School Law eSource, Personnel Issues during School Closures.

(New—9/13/2017) Districts that reduce the number of days of required service of contract employees without reducing pay must request that the commissioner authorize such a reduction pursuant to TEC § 21.401(c). Details on requesting this waiver are explained in the September 12, 2017 ”To the Administrator Addressed” letter.

Q: We have employees who were on leave when the storm hit. Do the days we were closed count toward family and medical leave and temporary disability leave?

A: The length of time the district is closed impacts whether the time may be counted as family and medical leave (FML). If the district was closed for less than a week, the time missed would still count as FML for any employee taking leave in increments of one week or more. If the closure was for a full workweek and employees were not expected to report to work, the time does not count against FML entitlement. If the employee is using FML in increments of less than one week, the closure will not count against the employee’s FML unless the employee was otherwise scheduled and expected to work on the day school was closed.
 
Because temporary disability leave is counted as calendar days, all missed time would count towards the employee’s temporary disability leave.

Q: Our district is open but we have employees who were impacted by the storm and are unable to come to work. Can they use leave?

A: You’ll need to follow the district’s Policy DEC (LOCAL) for employees who miss work because of a disaster. Most policies allow employees to use nondiscretionary personal leave for a family emergency. The definition of “family emergency” in policy typically is disasters or life-threatening situations involving the employee or a member of the employee’s immediate family. As a result, employees may use accumulated state and local sick and personal leave without limit to deal with emergencies resulting from the hurricane that prevent them from working (e.g., roads are impassable, dealing with personal matters, lost housing, dealing with insurance claims). 

Use of leave because their children’s schools or daycare facilities are closed is more complicated. A discussion of this issue is addressed in Personnel Issues during School Closures.

Q: Can a teacher displaced as a result of Harvey substitute for another district until her school reopens?

A: Yes. If the district the teacher has an employment contract with is closed for an extended period of time, the teacher can substitute in another district during the closure. However, the teacher and/or district that hires the teacher as a substitute should notify the original district of the temporary arrangement.