My remarks at both meetings will be about our campus reopening plans. I will solicit feedback on the masking policy options the board will review at their meeting on Friday. Based on my interactions with board members and feedback I received from the campus community, both of the options I will present to the board require masks in more places on campus than the current policy.
I encourage employees to join me tomorrow and students and their families to join me Thursday for these town hall meetings.
K-12 plans affect many on campus
Two weeks ago Springfield Public Schools (SPS) announced their school re-entry plan for the fall. Under this plan, parents must choose to enroll their students in a full-time virtual learning option or an in-person learning option. The in-person learning option requires students to participate in seated classes for two days per week and participate in virtual learning for three days per week.
I have worked extensively with Dr. John Jungmann, the superintendent of SPS, since he started his tenure at SPS. I am also well acquainted with members of the school board, two of whom work for MSU. The board and administration collaborated with public health officials, parents, community stakeholders and others to develop a re-entry plan that meets the needs of students while following health and safety guidelines. I applaud their work.
However, I recognize that having K-12 students in seated classrooms no more than two days per week creates a substantial scheduling hardship for many of our employees. Scheduling hardships also exist for those with students in other school districts and for our employees who do not have children in school but must attend to the health and safety needs of themselves, their families and others.
Hybrid class options
Our students continue to express a significant preference for seated classes in the fall. Accordingly, our plans must continue to feature a robust, seated classroom experience.
To preserve our seated classes while helping address the hardships referenced above, the university will allow faculty to convert their 200 level or higher classes to a hybrid model where each seated class will meet in person at least once each week at the regularly scheduled class time. The remainder of each class can then be delivered using an alternative modality.
The university’s tuition and fee structure does not charge a different rate for these kind of hybrid classes, so these changes will not have a direct financial impact on students.
For example, a faculty member teaching seated classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays could decide, after coordinating with the dean and department head, to have the class meet in a seated format on Tuesdays and meet via Zoom, Microsoft Teams or some other platform on Thursdays.
To exercise the option, faculty must present a hybrid class plan to their dean and department head for approval as soon as possible but no later than Aug. 12. Each plan must demonstrate comparable academic rigor to a fully seated classroom experience and must meet scheduling parameters established by the dean and department head.
Research indicates freshmen taking distance learning classes are much less likely to succeed when compared to their counterparts in face-to-face classes. Accordingly, this option will not be available for 100 level courses at this time. The option will also not be available for certain labs and hands-on courses as determined by the provost and dean.
Review policies for scheduling concerns
To help address childcare and other hardships resulting from the pandemic, I am instructing supervisors to be flexible in accommodating staff members’ pandemic-related scheduling needs throughout the fall semester.
Several tools are already available to help supervisors and staff members address scheduling concerns:
- Section 4.6 of the Employee Handbook authorizes employee flextime. I encourage all supervisors to be accommodating when evaluating and authorizing alternative work schedules at this time.
- Section 4.11 of the Employee Handbook authorizes telecommuting. I encourage all supervisors to be accommodating in authorizing telecommuting arrangements for employees at this time.
- Employees may use any accumulated leave benefits — sick or vacation — as needed. For example, if you are staying home with children because school is canceled, you can use accumulated sick or vacation leave.
- Under the Emergency Paid Leave Policy, qualifying employees may receive up to 10 days of paid time off. The eligibility criteria include employees who are caring for their children as a result of school closures.
- Under the COVID-19 Work and Compensation Policy, in addition to their emergency paid leave, employees may take up to 10 weeks of expanded family and medical leave if they are unable to work because they must care for their minor children due to school closure or childcare unavailability. This leave will be paid at 2/3 of the employee’s current salary or hourly rate (subject to statutory limits of $200 per day and $10,000 in total).
Adjusting work schedules
There are limits to the flexibility that the university can provide. Employees must demonstrate a legitimate pandemic-related scheduling need. School closures and childcare unavailability are two examples of such a need. It is not enough that an employee desires to work from home or on a different schedule.
Additionally, the needs of each employee’s office and job must continue to be met. For some areas on campus, this could involve a requirement that employees continue to come into the office for a certain number of days or hours each week. For other areas on campus, allowing employees to work entirely from home may be appropriate.
The fact that a certain scheduling adjustment is approved for one employee does not mean the same adjustment will be approved for another employee — particularly if the employees have different needs or work in different offices or roles.
There is not a one-size-fits all solution to meet the scheduling needs of our staff members and the needs of each office at the university. If you need a scheduling adjustment, you should collaborate with your supervisor to develop a plan that balances the requirements of your position, your needs and the needs of your co-workers. This plan could involve coming into the office on some days, flextime, telecommuting, use of accumulated or other leave, or some combination of these strategies. Employees’ scheduling hardships and the university’s staffing needs and availability may vary throughout the year, so these plans may need to be revisited and revised.
Scheduling adjustments are different from requests for accommodation related to disabilities. Disability accommodation requests should be made to the deputy compliance officer, who may be contacted at JuliaHolmes@MissouriState.edu.
No on-campus childcare
We have received multiple inquiries about whether the university will provide a childcare option for employees impacted by the SPS re-entry plan. We will not. The re-entry plan was developed to mitigate spread of COVID-19. After consulting with SPS administrators and public health officials, we believe that providing a group childcare option for our employees would undermine these health and safety efforts.
Cafeteria plan changes
The university’s cafeteria plan allows employees to set aside certain childcare costs on a pre-tax basis. If you elected to participate in the dependent care option in the cafeteria plan, you may be able to change your cafeteria plan election if your daycare closes or your child is no longer attending daycare.
Additional information can be found on the human resources blog.
Thanks for all you do for Missouri State!
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