Senate Bill 477: Could There be Changes to Teacher Planning Periods?

March 27, 2014Articles

Senate Bill No. 477 completed legislation, and as of the date of this Dinsmore & Shohl Education Law Practice Group Alert, the Bill is awaiting the signature of the Governor. The Bill, among other things, relates to the daily planning periods for classroom teachers found in W. Va. Code 18A-4-14.

If the Bill becomes law, unchanged are the following requirements regarding Planning Periods:

  • Every teacher who is regularly employed for more than one half the class periods of the regular school day shall be provided a least one planning period;
  • The planning period is to be used to complete necessary preparations for the instruction of pupils; 
  • For grades where the majority of the student instruction is delivered by only one teacher, the planning period shall be no less than forty minutes; 
  • For grades where students take separate courses during at least four separate periods of instruction, most usually delivered by different teachers for each subject, the planning period shall be the length of the usual class period taught by the teacher, but no less than forty minutes; 
  • Teachers may exchange their planning period for any compensation or benefit mutually agreed upon by the employee and the county superintendent or his or her agent.

If the Bill becomes law, the following language has been added regarding Planning Periods:

“The use of the entire period of time allotted for a planning period is determined by the teacher. Administrators may not require a teacher to attend meetings, training or any other work-related event during a planning period. This does not prohibit any teacher from participating in school-related activities, teacher evaluation conferences or conducting school-related meetings, as prescribed, at his or her discretion. ‘Meeting’ for the purpose of this section includes, but is not limited to, IEP meetings, 504 Plan meetings, team meetings and parent-teacher conferences. A planning period begins once students are physically delivered to another teacher or dismissed from a class.”

So, if the Bill becomes law, what does this mean?

  1. Could a teacher be required to attend an IEP meeting during his or her planning period? No. In Fruth, et al., v. Putnam County Board of Education, Docket No. 98-40-371 (December 3, 1998), teachers challenged the requirement that they prepare IEPs and conduct IEP meetings during their planning periods. The Administrative Law Judge concluded that "[t]he time Grievants spent during their planning periods preparing IEP's for their students constitutes 'necessary preparations for the instruction of pupils" and was, therefore, permissible. However, Senate Bill No. 477 would prohibit this at the effective date, and IEP meetings may not be held during a teacher’s planning period unless agreed to otherwise by the teacher(s).
  2. Could a teacher be required to attend a SAT1 meeting during his or her planning period? No. In Schifano v. Monongalia County Board of Education, Docket No. 2009-0829-MonED (August 18, 2009), the Administrative Law Judge concluded that “[t]he scheduling of the SAT meeting during Grievant's planning period did not violate W. Va. Code 18A-4-14(2), as the team members were completing necessary preparations for the instruction of the student.” However, Senate Bill No. 477 would prohibit this at the effective date, and SAT meetings (a/k/a “team meetings”) may not be held during a teacher’s planning period unless the teacher, at his or her discretion, schedules such a meeting.

    Similarly, in Jeffrey v. Cabell County Bd. of Educ., Docket No. 01-06-055 (July 31, 2001), it was held that “Discussion Mondays,” where a specific instructional program was taught to teachers, were properly conducted during planning periods, because this was considered instructional preparation time. However, under the new provisions of the Bill, participation in activities such as “Discussion Mondays” could not be required during a teacher’s planning period unless the teacher would volunteer to do so. 
  3. Could a teacher be required to attend a 504 Plan meeting during his or her planning period? No. Senate Bill No. 477 expressly prohibits 504 Plan meetings during planning periods unless agreed to otherwise by the teacher(s).
  4. So what types of meetings could administration require a teacher to attend during his or her planning period if the Bill becomes law? Senate Bill No. 477 provides that “[t]he use of the entire period of time allotted for a planning period is determined by the teacher. Administrators may not require a teacher to attend meetings, training or any other work-related event . . . ”. Therefore, mandated attendance or participation in meetings or activities will not be allowed.

If the Bill becomes law, it will be important for county school systems to update building administration of these changes. Although the use of planning periods in the past for 504 Plan meetings, IEP meetings or team meetings was rare but permissible, that would no longer be allowed, beginning on the effective date if the Bill becomes law. Administration would be prohibited from compelling teachers to attend meetings, training or any other work-related activities. The use of allotted planning period time would be determined by the teacher alone. If the legislation is signed by the governor, administrators should be advised to tread cautiously when scheduling meetings and considering requiring teacher attendance. The new language of the Bill stating that the use of planning period time “is determined by the teacher” could very possibly lead to a new line of grievance decisions regarding what this language actually means.

Should at any point you have any questions or concerns regarding this issue or any other issues, please feel free to contact the attorneys of Dinsmore & Shohl's Education Law Practice Group.

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(1) SAT members usually meet regularly to prepare instruction for certain students based on the academic, social, or behavioral needs of the students, and they develop interventions and modifications for the students.