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Montville Public Schools staff given choice: work or collect unemployment

Montville — On Friday, April 3, Superintendent Laurie Pallin sent a letter to Montville Public Schools staff about whether they should continue to work remotely or file for unemployment as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pallin told staff to make a decision by Monday on whether they would leave their jobs and seek unemployment benefits, or stay on through the crisis.

In the letter, she points to Gov. Ned Lamont's Executive Order 7R, which requires that public school districts continue to employ or restore employment of all staff.

"Staff members who choose not to accept this continued employment must resign from their positions," the letter reads. "They are not eligible for unemployment and would need to reapply in order to be reinstated once schools open. This means all rights and privileges accorded by your collective bargaining agreement would end and you would lose your seniority when rehired."

Pallin explained this in simpler terms on Monday, and noted that staff includes, but isn't limited to, teachers, paraprofessionals and other support staff such as behaviorists, job coaches, cafeteria staff, clerical staff and custodial workers.

"We use our staff during the period of closure to the extent consistent with state and federal laws, and we don't need to continue employment if it's not practicable," Pallin said. "In other words, we don't have work for them."

Some staff members already have started receiving unemployment benefits — Pallin reached out to them Monday to notify them whether there was enough work for them to come back or they should continue on unemployment.

Montville Public Schools has work for its paraeducators at the moment, according to Pallin. If the student work they're assigned doesn't reach their normal hours, they augment their time with professional development work.

The letter also mentions the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which provides for expanded paid family and medical leave. If someone can't complete their assigned remote work because they need to care for a child under 18 who can't attend school or child care anymore, then they would be eligible for up to 12 weeks of leave at two-thirds their regular pay.

Pallin gave staff three options: "Continue employment with MPS at your regular rate of pay, working from home, for your regular hours and rescind any application which you may have made for unemployment", "Apply for leave based upon the FFCRA for up to 12 weeks based upon the above criteria" or, "Resign from your position."

"Let's just say your job is a crossing guard," Pallin said, "and there's no telework that's crossing streets. To the greatest extent practicable, there isn't work for you, and you're eligible for unemployment. If I do have work for you and you choose not to work, that's where the sticky piece comes."

The education of Montville's children carries on, though not in the usual way. Pallin said the coronavirus has necessitated juggling by Montville Public Schools.

"For staff, you will make your pay, or you will get unemployment," Pallin said. "For parents, we will teach your child to the best of our ability. We have a number of people that can reach out and help you, and we can make this work, and I feel like we're on the road to that."

s.spinella@theday.com

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