For the first time since fall 2020, Delaware teachers will not be granted paid COVID-19 leave.
That means they have to use their normal sick leave if they or a family member gets sick.
“The argument can be made that we’re further away from the craziness of COVID, so I get it,” said Jennifer Saunders, who’s taught in Red Clay for three decades. “The cases are less severe with herd immunity and people building up immunity…“I just feel like it’s not fair enough to certain teachers.”
During the past year-and-a-half, educators were given 10 days of paid time off if they tested positive for COVID.
The days could also be used if there was close contact or exposure to someone with the disease.
With more people having been infected and vaccinated, the severity of the sickness has lessened and hospitals haven’t been as overwhelmed, educators agree.
“We’re going from a pandemic to it being more of an endemic now,” said John Marinucci, executive director of Delaware School Boards Association.
COVID seems to be following the routes of flu and pneumonia, becoming cyclical and dependent on the season.
“For the past 10 months or so, since the Omicron came out, COVID has been nothing more than a common cold,” said Chris Casscells, director of the Center for Health Policy at the Caesar Rodney Institute.
Why COVID leave was discontinued
Delaware school districts had no say in the decision to end COVID leave. It was made by the state.
“We are not fully out of danger and this removal does put everybody at risk,” said Naveed Baqir, a Christina School District school board member, “but school districts are not to be blamed for this because they never had to or were allowed to make this decision.”
A federal act that required employers to grant up to two weeks of paid time off ended June 30.
“If I have two kids at home who are sick with COVID, as a parent, that’s my problem and responsibility,” said Saunders. “You have the potential of 15 days out, so how much of that do we have to pay for, while other teachers without kids don’t have to pay that?”
She added that if someone is taking care of an older parent, their aides or nurses likely won’t be available if that parent has COVID.
Because the Department of Education has recommended that someone who’s sick should stay home from school for five days, a teacher could quickly eat up all their sick days if their child contracts the disease, too.
“The argument can be made that we’re further away from the craziness of COVID, so I get it,” Saunders said. “The cases are less severe with herd immunity and people building up immunity…“I just feel like it’s not fair enough to certain teachers.”
Bradley Layfield, principal of Sussex Central High School, said that teachers would often use their COVID leave even if they weren’t sick.
“The majority of people that took COVID leave as educators over the past couple of years were not actually sick with COVID, they were just in close contact with it,” Layfield said.
He said that COVID leave was discontinued largely because the Division of Public Health doesn’t require isolation for contact or sickness.
“As we transition back to a post-pandemic world, although COVID is still with us, it’s kind of just the same way we’ve dealt with the flu for years and years and years prior to the pandemic,” he said.
Even though the state ended the mandate to pay for COVID leave, there’s still a quarantine mandate.
The state’s 11-page guide on managing COVID included virtually no restrictions or requirements inside the classrooms other than promoting vaccination. It recommended, but didn’t mandate, that exposed people wear a mask for 10 days and get tested at least five days after their last exposure.
Under the guide, there will be no in-school testing, but students and staff who test positive are asked to share the results with the school.
“Here’s the thing,” Saunders said. “Somehow they’re still mandating the five days of isolation, but they aren’t paying us for the time they’re requiring us to be off for. It’s a shame to have to pay for that.”
Baqir said there are legitimate points to both sides.
“You have to also look at it through the administration’s perspective,” he said. “10 sick days are not granted in most other fields, and I would be hard-pressed to even give you an example of another employer besides a school district that offers 10 sick days, fully paid.”
Those 10 sick days have worked well for years, he said, because everybody understands that this is already a good deal.
Casscells also pointed out that most other professions never had COVID leave.
“Welcome to the world of the rest of us,” he said. “I think teachers are simply way, way, way behind the scientific and academic times, and it’s about time they get back to doing what they’re paid to do, which is teach our children.”
Marinucci said that removing COVID leave will strain schools even more than they have been the past few years.
“There’s a shortage of teachers, a shortage of subs, and there’s a shortage of employees in the education world and educational professions, period,” he said. “Will teachers taking leave for COVID throughout the year affect the education process? Absolutely.”
Raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Jarek earned a B.A. in journalism and a B.A. in political science from Temple University in 2021. After running CNN’s Michael Smerconish’s YouTube channel, Jarek became a reporter for the Bucks County Herald before joining Delaware LIVE News.
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