The St. James Board of Education held discussion on questions teachers have brought up about what would happen if there is a school closure and how teachers will be affected should they test positive for COVID-19. The district has a plan in place should there be a school closure, including teaching remotely, and the board discussed how staff will be affected.
Superintendent Dr. Merlyn Johnson told the board the biggest question he has received from staff is what happens if a teacher tests positive for COVID-19 and if they would get paid. The district was provided information from the Missouri School Board Association (MSBA) on Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL), which outlines how teachers would be paid for up to 80 hours should they have a positive test and another for Emergency Medical and Family Leave Expansion Act (EMFLA), which would provide up to 12 weeks of some pay in certain situations.
“What we did, the admin team came together and discussed, originally our thought was when we go 100 percent virtual, our thought was all teachers, all staff, must be on site to work. We know that it is a perception thing with public education with some people if people aren’t at the work site then stuff isn’t getting done,” Johnson explained. “I can assure you what happened in March, April, and May is not what is going to be happening in public schools. We are prepared. Learning will be happening, but there will be circumstances where we feel like we need to work with teachers who are in an unusual situation with their families or are quarantined.”
Four exceptions were developed for teachers which would allow them to teach offsite should it be required. “The four exceptions would be childcare provider is unavailable, which would be your children and your household. They may be able to work virtually without using any EPSL or Emergency FMLA,” Johnson said.
He added there are conditions associated with that, such as not having any distractions while teaching virtually. If there was a distraction at home, the teacher would have to use their EPSL.
“The second exception would be, if you are instructed by the county you have to quarantine. You’re not going to be at school, right? But, if you are asymptomatic then you would be expected to work virtually if it’s possible,” Johnson said.
He said the district would like its staff to work, if the teacher has internet access and can teach virtually. “If you’re symptomatic, obviously, you’re sick and we don’t expect you to work,” he said.
The third exception is if a staff member is caring for someone who has been instructed by the county to quarantine. “Very similar, in those cases we would like that person to work virtually, but it says that person may be allowed to work virtually when you are caring for somebody. Obviously, if that care for somebody is a distraction, then you would have to go on EPSL. The last one is a bit tricky. It is experiencing COVID symptoms and is seeking medical attention.”
Johnson told the board a teacher who self-diagnoses would have to go on EPSL unless they are seeking medical treatment to get a confirmed diagnosis. “So, you have to think you have it, with symptoms, and be able to say I’m seeking medical attention and be able to prove that,” he explained. “If you are seeking medical attention then you would qualify for the EPSL. If you do not and don’t want to get tested, we are expecting you to self-quarantine for the 14 days and you would not qualify for the EPSL.
“On all those exceptions, we have a list of conditions that you can work if you are able to and not have to do the EPSL or the Emergency FMLA and wouldn’t have to use any days and you’d get paid,” Johnson told the board.
If a teacher qualifies, they must have access to high speed internet at home or offsite location, must be available for duty hours of their building, be required to wear professional attire, have a site free of distractions, maintain a parent contact log and student feedback log, and if internet becomes unreliable or disconnected or distractions become an issue, the teacher will be required to return on site or use their EPSL.
“I think that was one of our concerns back in the spring was that there were times when people were disconnecting and we were having trouble getting ahold of people. They were getting paid, so you are going to need to be available during the day,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the administration team feels these rules would provide teachers opportunities to be paid during this year should special circumstances come about, but the plan is to have all staff on site for this year. He voiced he feels these rules are fair to teachers who do encounter special circumstances this year.
The board voiced their agreement of the rules presented and the information was relayed to staff following the meeting to highlight what options are available as the new school year begins. Johnson said the goal is to make this year as normal as possible for as long as possible and adjustments will be made as new challenges related to COVID-19 and the return of students are faced.