St. Johns County teachers will now need to use sick days for COVID-19 related time off

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – Unless a new deal is struck in St. Johns County, teachers there will no longer be able to take emergency time-off for COVID-19 related reasons.

It’s because part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act ends on Dec. 31.

This could be a problem for teachers who might become exposed or contract the virus over Christmas break.

Because the emergency leave from the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act ends on the last day of the year, and students return on Jan. 4, if a teacher who has to quarantine over the break may have to start the year without special emergency leave.

On the final day before Christmas break, St. Johns County teachers got an email from Superintendent Tim Forson notifying them of the expiration.

“Therefore, starting January 4, 2021, if an employee has to be out of work due to a covid-related matter … he/she will need to utilize their accrued leave for such absence,” Forson wrote.

That includes teachers waiting for test results, having to quarantine because of a close-contact with or contraction of the virus and teachers who have children in daycares that close because of the pandemic.

“If for some reason you’ve burned through your earned sick time and then, as I said, through no fault of your own, have multiple exposures and are directed to quarantine, you could be looking at an unpleasant financial situation. And that’s what we want to avoid,” said Michelle Dillon, President of the St. Johns Education Association.

Dillon said the hope is to sit down with district leaders in January to figure out a solution for teachers to still have access to some form of emergency leave.

“I know that we will be able to sit down with our district and do some good faith negotiations to provide some sort of extension. I do not know what that will look like. But I know that we’ll be able to sit down with the district,” Dillon said.

Earlier this month, the Duval County School Board agreed to let employees use whatever paid leave they still have left under the federal act, a move that’s expected to cost the district an estimated $1.1 million.

Dillon said there’s no meeting with the district scheduled yet, but she hopes to get those talks underway as soon as the school year resumes.

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