Full-time Lowndes County School District employees can use an additional 80 hours, or 10 working days, of paid sick leave if they contract the COVID-19 coronavirus or need to quarantine due to exposure anytime before March 31.
The LCSD board voted unanimously Friday, via the consent agenda, to add the 80 hours to the district’s existing leave policy of two personal days and nine sick days per academic year. Unused leave carries over into subsequent years and retirement.
The board did not debate the policy before approving it, but Superintendent Sam Allison brought it up during his report to the board, describing it as a “Band-Aid” for district employees.
Board member Brian Clark expressed his support for the measure during the meeting.
“Especially with the workload and everything that teachers have to go through, I think it’s the right thing to do,” Clark said.
Under the original Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), Congress had appropriated funds to provide employees up to 80 hours of sick time if they met the policy guidelines. The new COVID-19 relief package that Congress passed at the end of December does not include that sick time provision, but individual employers have the option of extending it through March 31.
Allison told The Dispatch after the meeting that the extra leave can be used in situations other than COVID-19 illness and exposure, such as if an employee needs to stay home with their children if the virus forces a day care facility to close.
“Some people may have to use more than 10 days, and they still have their other sick leave,” Allison said.
The Lowndes County supervisors agreed earlier this month to adopt a similar policy on extra COVID-19-related leave “until further notice.”
LCSD will continue offering virtual learning in addition to in-person learning during the spring semester, which starts this month after Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Allison said during his report.
“We can’t replace the classroom, but in talking to our administrators and our teachers, we feel like we need to continue with the path we’re on,” he said.
So far it looks like “a good many” students will return to in-person instruction, he said, while about 25 percent of students in virtual learning will stay there.
The district will be flexible regarding when students and parents finalize their preferred learning method for the upcoming semester, since COVID-19 case numbers locally and statewide are still increasing, Allison said.
All students learned remotely on Wednesdays last semester, and Allison said this will continue. The buildings being empty one day a week helped the district track close contacts for positive COVID cases, he said.
Tess Vrbin was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.