There is no coronavirus-specific leave policy in place for Frederick County Public Schools employees this year, prompting concern among some school board members and the head of the teachers union.

Until June 30, FCPS teachers, administrators and support workers were covered by a memorandum of understanding between the school board and the unions representing them. MOUs are drafted as temporary addendums to employees’ contracts, Frederick County Teachers Association President Missy Dirks said.

Last year’s MOU allowed employees with and without benefits who either had COVID-19 or were exposed to the disease to comply with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quarantine guidelines — without draining their sick leave.

Most FCPS employees get 10 sick days per year. The days roll over if they aren’t all used.

To take advantage of the terms of the MOU, which has since expired, employees had to show proof of infection or exposure.

“There weren’t extra days given to everyone,” Dirks said. “It was as needed, with documentation.”

But now, without a designated policy for time off due to COVID-19 infection, Dirks said, teachers and other school leaders were worried employees might ignore minor symptoms and come to work while sick with the virus.

“People aren’t testing like they were,” Dirks said. “There’s no requirements. And they’re not going out of their way to find out [if they have COVID-19], because there’s no COVID leave available to them.”

At a Frederick County Board of Education work session on Wednesday, FCPS Chief Financial Officer Leslie Pellegrino said she did an analysis showing that the average FCPS employee had a “couple hundred hours” worth of leave available.

She and Chief of Staff Sarah Sirgo told the board they were confident that most employees had enough sick leave to cover a COVID-19 infection.

Dirks, meanwhile, said the average amount of accumulated leave wasn’t a useful measure.

“What would be more helpful in the discussion is the range,” Dirks said.

Newer teachers, or people who have given birth or dealt with a chronic illness, for example, can’t fall back on years’ worth of accumulated sick leave, Dirks said. FCPS doesn’t have a separate system for parental leave.

And with the CDC’s current guidelines, Dirks added, a single COVID-19 infection could cut an employee’s yearly sick leave allowance in half. Two infections could drain it entirely.

Dirks said union members have been asking the school board to come to the bargaining table and work out another COVID-19 leave policy. Harford, Baltimore and Montgomery counties currently have a policy on the books, Dirks and other school officials said.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Sirgo and Pellegrino recommended that the board consider a COVID-19 leave policy that would apply only to employees who exhausted their available sick leave.

Dirks said Wednesday’s meeting was the first she’d heard that idea.

“I’m not sure how that would even work,” Dirks said. “They have not come to the table to talk to us about any of these ideas.”

Part of the justification for the more limited policy, Sirgo said, was that the process of verifying COVID-19 infections or exposures was an “extremely significant” burden on FCPS’ human resources department.

Sirgo and Pellegrino also pointed to the fact that Frederick County government’s COVID-19 leave policy was expiring soon, and most other districts across the state weren’t currently offering one.

“We really want to have sort of a ‘one band, one sound’ approach to how we’re supporting our employees,” Sirgo said in an interview Friday.Board member Karen Yoho, a former teacher, said it’s important to address the issue. She said she’s heard from teachers who — despite feeling unwell — have convinced themselves they can work.

“We want to think COVID is in the past, and we want to move on,” Yoho said. “And it’s become a lot better, but it’s still hanging out there.”

Follow Jillian Atelsek on Twitter: @jillian_atelsek

Education reporter

Jillian Atelsek covers education for The Frederick News-Post. She grew up near Woodsboro, attended Walkersville High School and graduated from the University of Maryland in 2020 with degrees in journalism and history.

(4) comments

Boomer631B

Welcome to reality government employees deal with what us private workers had to deal with for years... you get a finite number of days for vacation, sick, etc... use them wisely or take leave without pay... it also goes to their budget planning - plan accordingly so in case you need to take time off without pay it will not be a big burden - maybe restructure your budget to have less time eating out, or buying the next I-phone or a new car or taking shorter vacations or no vacation like some of us had to do thru tough economic times.

teadoffinfrederickcounty

"And it’s become a lot better, but it’s still hanging out there.”.

Not according to Hunter's daddy.

dremsberg

Why most companies give two weeks sick leave max and sick leave never rolls over or accumulates. It’s either used during the year because you’ve gotten sick or it’s gone. And to have COVID illness not apply against it unheard of. Have hard time having sympathy here when BOE had always had extraordinarily generous leave benefits - as it seems is true of government workers - “Cadillac benefit policies”.

Boomer631B

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