Illness support is scarce for Arizona teachers

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When students returned to school at Tempe Elementary School District on Monday, educators who tested positive for COVID-19 should have used their own sick time.

By Thursday, with an entire class of third-graders quarantined for exposure to COVID-19, the district had a new policy for its teachers.

Following a Governing Board action, teachers in the Tempe District who test positive for the coronavirus will now have access to up to 10 days of paid sick leave, separate from the sick leave benefits offered by their districts.

Last year, most educators in Arizona gained access to this benefit, which was secured by federal funding that expired in December.

This year, the coronavirus pandemic is far from over. But whether educators get additional paid sick leave if they contract COVID-19 or have to tap into their own sick days varies from district to district.

In districts where teachers do not have access to additional days off, this could be particularly difficult for new teachers who contract the coronavirus but have not yet accumulated sick days, as well as for educators who must take time to care for children or other loved ones.

It’s a stark reminder of the reality of this school year: Even though federal and local health guidelines have become more stringent to minimize the spread of the delta variant, COVID-19 policies in Arizona schools are closer. from the pre-coronavirus era.

“It’s so incredibly important, especially since the governor has continued to tie the hands of districts” to impose health measures like masks or vaccines, said Katie Nash, professor of biology at Chandler High School and union president.

Federal support payments, which lasted until December 31 of last year, were part of the first coronavirus relief bill. Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the federal government has reimbursed employers for offering up to two weeks of paid sick leave and up to 10 weeks of other family leave related to the coronavirus.

In Arizona, many districts took advantage of the funds, but among the state’s largest, only a handful continued to offer teachers some form of extended sick leave.

Among the 10 largest districts in the state, the Peoria Unified School District said last week that it was considering expanding its leave policy but did not yet have any updates, and the governing board Paradise Valley Unified School District had extended teachers’ access to paid time off for up to 10 working days, through December of this year.

Nash says that in Chandler, Arizona’s second-largest school district, the teachers’ association negotiated with the district for an extension of paid sick leave until the end of last school year. Now, with schools open for nearly a week in Chandler and increasing COVID-19 cases, she plans to negotiate with the district to use a recent round of her federal relief dollars for teachers’ sick days. .

The position of the statewide group of teachers, the Arizona Education Association, is that expanding paid sick days for COVID-19 was a way to compensate for some of the more difficult elements to be teacher in a state where education was already underfunded and many schools were treated. a shortage of teachers.

“We need maximum support and flexibility for educators,” said President Joe Thomas.

Contact the reporter at ykunichoff@arizonarepublic.com and follow her on Twitter @yanazure.

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