On Friday, March 27, 2020, numerous guidance documents were issued that impact school districts. This included, among other things, a new Executive Order from the Governor; Emergency Rules from ISBE; Remote Learning Recommendations from ISBE; and an updated Joint Statement from the Governor, ISBE, IFT, IEA, IPA, and IASA. All related, to some extent, to the new concept of “Remote Learning Days.” We hope and expect that in this time of crisis, school employees and their bargaining representatives will be cooperative and agreeable to Remote Learning Day Plans, and this communication is intended to provide a brief step-by-step guide to ensuring your bargaining obligations are met.

How do I go about bargaining Remote Learning Days with my employee unions?

As soon as possible, call the union leaders in your District and explain your Remote Learning Day Plan to them. In many cases, the union leaders–or at least members from their bargaining unit–will already be part of the group that is planning for the Remote Learning Days, in which case you hopefully will have their agreement already. We expect that in most cases, the unions will approve the plan, in which case you’re done bargaining.

What if the unions do not agree, insist on formal negotiations, and demand that we do not implement a plan until there is mutual agreement?

Legally, this is tricky. Remote Learning Days are a change in working conditions for virtually every school employee in Illinois, and ISBE’s Emergency Rules say that “work connected to Remote Learning Day Plans shall be mutually agreed upon between employers and any collective bargaining entity.” But under both the NLRA and the IELRA, this pandemic likely qualifies as a bona fide emergency that allows you to implement before negotiations are complete, and it is not clear that ISBE has the legal authority to change that rule. Rather than get bogged down in this legal quagmire, the better approach is to try to iron out the issues with your union in a quick but fair manner.

Since Remote Learning Days are supposed to start tomorrow (Tuesday, March 31, 2020), time is of the essence. Meet with your union leader(s) ASAP to hear their concerns and any proposals they have. If you can’t reach an understanding, call us, and we’ll see if we can work with our counterparts in the union organizations to help you reach an agreement.

Since the Act-of-God days expire today (March 30), and schools are back “on the clock” to reach 176 school days starting tomorrow, a delayed start to Remote Learning Days is the equivalent of a missed instructional day. It might be possible to use Emergency Days now that would have to be made up later, but a better option to give yourself a little time now is to use a couple of your “Remote Learning Planning Days”–you have a total of five to use this school year, per ISBE’s Emergency Rules–to hammer out the details with your union.

What happens if we use all five Remote Learning Planning Days and we still haven’t reached agreement with our union(s)?

If you find yourself approaching this point without an agreed-upon Remote Learning Plan, call us. It may be necessary to get a court to weigh in, or to unilaterally implement and sort out the legal fallout later. Either way, you’ll want to discuss the legal risks and benefits with us before you take either of those steps.