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Madison School Board votes to reinstate COVID-19 sick leave for teachers, staff

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The Madison School Board approved COVID-19 sick leave for teachers and staff during a special meeting Monday.

The new, temporary policy will provide district employees, who are already eligible for sick leave, with five days of COVID-19-specific leave and two mental health days for a total of seven additional days, which will not accrue, rollover or be paid out upon separation.

"I want this to be enforced as soon as possible after the vote," Superintendent Carlton Jenkins said. "We're going to try to have a plan, long-term, this is just a start right now."

Jenkins said staff can expect a more in-depth, long-term plan regarding COVID leave in the next seven days. Board president Ali Muldrow recused herself from the vote and member Chris Gomez Schmidt abstained from the vote with all other five members in support.

Out of all district staff, roughly 76 were completely out of their paid time off for the school year as of Monday, including 16 teachers. The new COVID-19 leave will be retroactive for those staff members who were completely out of paid time off as of Monday. The district plans to draw money for the new leave policy from unused funds from the substitute teacher budget. 

The decision came after board member Nicki Vander Meulen asked the full board and district administration to include the topic for discussion during meetings in October, with no response from either body — and again in December when the board added the subject to its Dec. 13 meeting for discussion, but not a vote.

Under prior district policy, teachers and staff were required to use paid time off (PTO) and sick leave to cover COVID-related absences, including a required quarantine period if a teacher or staff member is identified as a close contact to a COVID-19 case, Vander Meulen told the Wisconsin State Journal in December.

From April to September in 2020, school districts were required by the federal government to provide COVID-specific leave time for staff. When the federal requirement expired in September 2020, the Madison School District continued to provide the coverage through September 2021.

Local teachers union, Madison Teachers, Inc., began circulating a petition Friday morning calling for COVID-19 sick pay for teachers and staff among other requests as staff prepared to return to school buildings on Monday. 

School board vice president Savion Castro tweeted Friday, after the petition began circulating, that the board was developing a proposal for presentation and approval during the special Monday meeting that will address MTI concerns.

The Verona and Monona Grove school districts also provide COVID-19 specific sick pay for teachers and staff.

Elizabeth Beyer's most memorable stories of 2021

This past year marked my first as an education beat reporter — or any kind of beat reporter, really — and it was an absolute doozy. From school reopening's amid the pandemic to school board scuffles over mitigation measures and curriculum, I can't think of a single dull moment.

At times I felt like pulling my hair out while chasing down open records requests and battling with school district communications staff over access to those records but seeing policy change in real time after those stories broke has been affirming, even if the story I wrote played a very minor role in affecting that change. 

Despite the challenging year, this rookie beat reporter is looking forward to many more. 

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Elizabeth Beyer is a digital producer for the Wisconsin State Journal. She joined the team in 2019 and was formerly a data, video and audio reporter at the La Crosse Tribune.

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