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- Paid Time Off Is a Thing of the Past for Teachers - February 28, 2022
By: Dana Brown
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“I’ve decided that I will return to work on Friday. I am out of sick leave and COVID days. I am still positive for COVID, and the CDC suggests quarantining for five days if symptoms resolve, or ten days if symptoms persist, but I simply cannot afford to take a day without pay.”
These are the words I began typing to my principal on Thursday morning, only a day after my positive COVID test. Unfortunately, I am not the only one to type these words or a subset thereof. This is the mindset of many educators, particularly new educators who do not have a wealth of paid time off (PTO). With this decision between recovery and safety or financial security, COVID-19 will spread instead of being stifled as it should.Paid Time Off Is a Thing of the Past for Teachers Click To Tweet
COVID-19 is here to stay. Its thinly veiled aliases are Delta and Omicron, among others. When COVID-19 first entered our world, a silver lining could be found. There was an explosion of compassion and empathy among families, friends, and even employers to employees. We were given time to reconnect. We were empathetic towards those who had contracted the virus and allotted them prayers, good vibes, meals, and time to rest. Now years later, however, that compassion and empathy is waning. Now, instead of compassion, there is an annoyance at the employee’s absence and mandatory quarantine. Now, instead of good vibes, there is discrimination and disappointment. Now, instead of “get well soon” or “is there anything I can do for you?” in response to call-outs, there is “can you work from home” with the unspoken message of “without pay.” Now, instead of “take your time to rest and recover” and meet the minimum quarantine guidelines as directed by the CDC, there is “you will have to take leave without pay” if you plan to stay out of work any longer.
Forget the empathy and compassion aspect for a minute because I know that is not everyone’s jam. Instead, let’s take on the waning of common sense. Common sense dictates that if you want to stifle the spread of COVID-19, you have positive people quarantine, right? At least that’s what the Center for Disease Control believes. However, if, like the school system, you threaten a person’s quality of life (ahem: days without pay), the positive patients will return to work against the CDC guidelines, still positive, and spread the virus to many others. Guess what? The cycle continues! The next round of infected people cannot lose pay either. And so it goes.
Unlike the cure for the virus, the cure for this situation is quite simple. There are two options. Option 1: the ten days of unpenalized COVID leave should stay in place for EACH semester. Spreading the ten days over two semesters does not work. I am the perfect example of this. I had COVID in August/September - the lovely Delta variant - that took eight days of my unpenalized leave. Then I had COVID - the Omicron variant - in January in the same school year. The CDC and my doctor’s orders say to quarantine for five days and return to work if no symptoms persist or ten days if symptoms do persist. Oh, wait! I can’t do that. I only have two days left of my unpenalized leave. The other days will be unpaid…
As long as a person has a positive COVID test, they should get unpenalized paid time off for COVID as long as the CDC quarantine recommends. This way they can rest and recover without the fear of financial hardship and without the compulsion to return to work, still positive, because of financial decisions. This is especially true for teachers since we work in a high-risk environment surrounded by 20-30 students in one small room.
The second but less effective option is to allow educators to earn more paid time off per pay period. Right now, educators earn 1.25 days per month. Can you now see why new educators go into work sick or forgo the quarantining guidelines? I was infected with COVID-19 the second week of school. Without enough paid time off or COVID-19 unpenalized days, my first paycheck would have had eight days of pay missing. Furthermore, with COVID-19 being here to stay, an educator who, like me, has caught two different strands all within six months
In the wake of COVID-19, certain things in our world have to change. Paid time off for educators is one of them. We cannot simply go about things the way they’ve always been just because they’ve always been that way. No. The world is not the way it’s always been. There is more sickness, more spread, and COVID-19 is here to stay. It has been said that for the last few years educators have taken on more than ever before due to this pandemic. We are now counselors and nurses in addition to being educators. We do not want to be martyrs too. It is time that the educators, who support so many and ask for so little, are supported by their administration and community. That support begins with adequate paid time off.
Dana Brown is an accomplished journalist and educator. She holds a MA in English and creative writing and works as an elementary teacher in her local school district. As a passionate advocate for teachers’ rights, Dana seeks to educate the public on the good, the bad, and the ugly of teaching.