Teachers can be notorious for toughing out coughs and colds and heading to work sick.
But with coronavirus on the prowl, they should be encouraged to stay home, a trio of state education groups said Wednesday.
Some teacher contracts are written in a way that encourages teachers to save sick time. To that end, the groups said, local Nebraska school boards should amend contracts to ensure paid medical leave for teachers sickened by or quarantined because of coronavirus.
“The purpose of this is to get people to take their sick leave,” said Maddie Fennell, executive director of the Nebraska Education Association. “We have people who are concerned about running out of sick leave and what happens if I’m not sick but I’ve been quarantined. Am I covered or not?”
She noted that a number of Nebraska teachers and coaches are self-quarantined after attending a Fremont Special Olympics event, where a participant would later be diagnosed with COVID-19.
The NEA, Nebraska Association of School Boards and Nebraska Council of School Administrators are asking local school boards and education associations to approve an addendum to their negotiated agreements that would provide for paid sick leave through the end of this school year.
The contracts should be amended to strongly encourage employees who experience symptoms of a virus infection to stay home so as not to expose others to COVID-19 or any other contagious or infectious disease.
Paid medical leave should be granted until an employee is able to resume their duties without exposing others to the disease.
The contracts also should hold employees accountable for using the leave appropriately, the groups said.
Sick leave amounts and how employees can accumulate it typically varies among districts, Fennell said.
“We incentivize people not using it because we have so few subs right now,” she said, “so teachers don’t use it, and then when you retire you get paid part of your sick leave. So we really try to get people not to be sick and not to use sick leave. Except in this case we really need them to use their sick leave, because otherwise they’re going to reinfect.”
Nebraska already has a state law, passed in 1919 immediately after the Spanish flu epidemic, that requires teachers to be paid their full salaries if schools are shut down due to an epidemic.