ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – Last year, if teachers had to miss work to get a coronavirus test or were forced to quarantine due to possible exposure, their salary was covered by funding from the federal government’s Families First Coronavirus Response Act. But since that expired, districts have been left to figure things out on their own.
Now, as the new school year begins with more cases and fewer testing options, teacher unions in St. Johns and Duval counties are working to make sure teachers don’t have to use their own paid time off to cover coronavirus-related absences.
“Currently, the district’s policy is that if a teacher has to quarantine, they have to use their own sick leave. There isn’t anything in place as there was last year with the federal dollars,” Michelle Dillon, head of the St. Johns Education Association (SJEA), said Monday. “Let’s not force our employees to be even more stressed out, more anxious using their own sick time.”
With federal help last year, teachers were allowed two weeks of paid leave for coronavirus-related absences.
Dillon said the union and the St. Johns County School District will go to the negotiating table on Thursday to try and work out a deal. The district said Monday it was waiting to comment until the meeting.
“The fact that people that do have vaccinations are getting sick, the wait times just trying to find appointments,” Dillon said. “I have acquaintances who came down with COVID and just trying to get an appointment to get tested was frustrating and took longer than expected.”
Dillon said she hopes it will be similar to the deal the two sides worked out last year where teachers can take up to eight days of paid leave.
The school district in Clay County is having similar negotiations.
In Duval County, the teachers union and the district are also in the process of working out a deal.
Terrie Brady, president of Duval Teachers United (DTU), said the union and district have already come to an agreement that if someone was believed to have close contact with a case, or they had to get tested or showed symptoms, they can get four paid days off — two days to get tested and two more to wait for results. But Brady said DTU is looking for something more substantial.
“So we’re inching closer, but we’re not there yet, because it costs money and the districts haven’t got money to do that,” Brady said on “The Morning Show.”
The St. Johns County School District and SJEA are meeting Thursday at 5:30 p.m. to talk about a deal and the meeting will be livestreamed.