Teacher COVID-19 sick leave policies vary greatly across Idaho

“Last year, there were some stimulus funds that came specifically to address teacher absences or teachers needing to be away related particularly to COVID. That’s gone away this year”
Published: Sep. 28, 2021 at 3:04 PM MDT
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Southern Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) — Coronavirus continues to run rampant throughout the state of Idaho, all while schools remain in session. This year, paying for COVID-19 quarantine for teachers who test positive or are exposed to COVID-19 is an issue statewide.

The methods districts are using to handle this financial conundrum vary greatly statewide.

“Last year, there were some stimulus funds that came specifically to address teacher absences or teachers needing to be away related particularly to COVID. That’s gone away this year,” said Debbie Critchfield, Public Relations for the Cassia County School District.

According to Critchfield, about 85% of a school district’s budget goes towards salaries and benefits, and that is without factoring a global pandemic into the equation.

Teachers in the Cassia County School District are “required to use their typical paid sick leave that they would have for any sickness or illness,” Critchfield said.

Over in Buhl, the district benefited from a sick leave bank system they had in place pre-COVID-19. If a participating teacher must quarantine, the district will provide two days of sick leave paid for by federal funds and two additional days from the sick leave bank for a total of four days. After that, teachers must use their personal paid time off.

“We had a sick leave bank that has been utilized and staff members have been buying into that,” said Buhl School District Superintendent David Carson. “We were in a situation where we had that pool to pull from.”

Carson noted, this system applies to every individual COVID-19-related quarantine, so if a participating teacher must quarantine multiple times during the school year, that teacher will receive those four days off in each individual instance before having to dip into personal paid time off.

Covering COVID-19 leave can be costly, as was highlighted in a recent Blaine County School Board Meeting. In a memo given to board members, it was noted that last school year between January and May 2021, teachers in Blaine County used over 278 days of COVID-19 leave at a cost of more than $83,000.

“Oftentimes people are in a situation in which they’re doing all they can. They’re wearing the masks when they’re out and about and they end up in a situation where they end up testing positive even though they’re trying to do everything right,” said Blaine County School District Human Resources Director Brooke Marshall.

She added there have already been a number of individuals who are fully vaccinated and have tested positive for COVID-19. In some cases, these cases have been among new staff members who have not yet built up a significant amount of paid time off.

During the meeting, the Blaine County School Board Trustees voted to provide teachers with up to 10 COVID-19 sick days annually on a case-by-case basis; but, the president of the Idaho Education Association said these policies do not go nearly far enough.

“What we want to see happen is for districts to look at using the COVID money that we have to help offset teachers that are doing the right thing by quarantining and staying home when they’re sick,” said IEA President Layne McInelly.

He added there likely is not a one size fits all solution to this issue, stating “districts are unique across this state, so they need to make sure they talk with their local association leaders to come up with a plan that will be successful in their area.”

In a recent Idaho State Board of Education special meeting, it was stated by the Idaho Association of School Administrators’ Andy Grover that they are now seeing teachers return to work even if they are still sick, partially resulting from a lack of COVID-19 leave.

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