The Madison School Board discussed additional sick leave for staff who have tested positive for COVID-19 at a jam-packed meeting last night.
This issue was brought up by board member Nicki Vander-Muelen last week. Vander-Muelen told the Wisconsin State Journal that she had brought up the issue many times over the last six months, but that the issue had gone ignored.
At a special meeting last night, the board agreed that action should be taken to provide extra COVID related sick leave to staff.
Previously, staff could utilize the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which allowed for paid leave due to COVID. That act expired in September of this year, at the beginning of the school year.
Now, staff have to use their own sick days to cover exposure to COVID. Teachers in the Madison Metropolitan School District are only given ten sick days per year
As cases rise across the district, Vander-Muelen says that staff is doing all they can for their students.
“People need to be able to do honest work for honest pay, and people are doing that the best they can. But COVID is a game-changer and it has changed every single industry in this country and probably in the world, so we need to find a way to do that. Additionally, I think we need to try to include sick leave that’s separate from COVID leave, ” Vander-Muelen says.
While the specifics for the plan have not yet been hammered out, the goal is to create a bank of sick days that all staff will be able to use when they have either tested positive for COVID-19 or need to quarantine.
Board Vice President Savion Castro says that both the district and the staff can help address this issue.
“I think that this is an instance where we can lead with our humanity, as well we should. I am certainly interested in a cost-estimate and a proposal, though my instinct tells me that as our vaccination rates go up, and we continue to use the best mitigation practices, that we can absolutely afford this, as well as looking into a time bank component as well,” Castro says.
Board President Ali Muldrow says that she is proud that the board is able to speak in unison on the issue.
“I’m grateful for this conversation because what I think is easy to pull away from this conversation is the sense of solidarity amongst the board members, amongst our administration, and amongst our union, that we want to do anything we can to alleviate stress and to make our educators know that they are supported. That means looking to new tools and new options to doing things we haven’t done before, and it’s good to know that we are creating a supportive environment amongst the board for that kind of challenge,” Muldrow says.
Madison Metro School District Superintendent Carlton Jenkins says that he will be attending a meeting with school administrators on Wednesday, and is ready to move with quote “lighting speed” to address the issue.
While there is not a proposal written yet, the board agreed that one should be written as soon as possible, and look to address it in the first regular meeting after winter break.
Also discussed at last night’s meeting was the School District Safety Plan, to be given to the Department of Justice at the end of the month.
The plan is designed to organize their approach for prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery from safety incidents.
The board has said that they will not be updating any part of the overall district safety plan this year, however they will not be ignoring the subject either.
The board stated that they will be working with multiple groups, including the Madison Police Department and Dane County Emergency Management, in January of next year.
The group will review multiple parts of their plan for potential revision for the 20-22 20-23 school year, including when to report sexual violence, emergency procedures around sexual violence, school safety teams, and when to involve the police in safety incidents.
Recommended revisions to the plan will be brought to the board next spring.
Photo courtesy: Kelly Sikkema / UNSPLASH