Board discusses paying teachers for 10 days after COVID-19 infection; attorney answers teachers’ questions

The Coffee County School Board discussed on Aug. 3 allowing teachers to be paid for 10 days through Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) after a confirmed COVID-19 infection.

The Coffee County School Board discussed on Aug. 3 allowing teachers to be paid for 10 days through Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) after a confirmed COVID-19 infection.

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Schools are reopening in Coffee County after the long hiatus caused by the ongoing pandemic. In March Coffee County schools joined the rest of the nation’s learning institutions by closing when news of the COVID-19 infection reached the state. That was over five months ago. Now Coffee County Schools have reopened during the pandemic. The reopening features many new challenges that the faculty in the school system will have to face, so the school board held a work session on Aug. 3 to talk about some of the solutions that the state and federal governments have offered and whether to adopt two such solutions in the coming school year.

The bulk of the meeting featured Charles Cagle, school board attorney, explaining a new federal program that lists teachers as part of the critical infrastructure.

“The program allows teachers to be paid for 10 days through FMLA after a confirmed COVID-19 infection,” Cagle said. “After those 10 days, the teacher will have to use any saved sick days.” 

One attendee at the meeting asked, “What if the teacher doesn’t feel comfortable being at the office during all this? Are they protected under this program?”

Cagle answered that, “The teacher in question is compelled to come to work during this time. The exception would be confirmed doctoral notice indicating that they cannot be here, as stated previously regarding the FMLA pay protection. With the current situation going on for the foreseeable future some faculty have tendered resignations already due to personal reasons.”

Another attendee asked, “Some of the classrooms are too small to adequately social distance the students, if a teacher has concerns about this is there any recourse?”

Cagle replied, “I always say go to the health department. They cannot force a school to shut down, but they can send an appeal to the school board to factor into their decision.”

Another question posed was, “Does the program work in reverse? Such as a teacher that may possibly be sick wanting to come to work. Are they allowed to?”

Cagle explained that, “The program is used mainly to allow schools to continue functioning. Teachers will be allowed to quarantine under FMLA protection, but the program doesn’t force them to. We would want them to use their best judgement. One of the things we are concerned with is if the English department had a confirmed case and then the social studies department decides they don’t want to come in due to this. This program helps make sure the social studies department keeps running.”

One of the last questions about the program involved substitutes, with one attendee asking if the substitute teachers could be compelled through this program.

School Board member Dr. Gary Nester explained, “Substitutes are not state employees and therefore can’t be compelled to come. It is a concern for the board as the county has a shortage of subs as is, but it is something we can’t do much about now.”

With some of the confusion over the program lifted the board decided whether to adopt the program. The members couldn’t come to a decision during the work session, so the issue was tabled until the next meeting. 

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