School districts on the Suncoast continuing emergency paid COVID leave for employees, to a degree

School districts on the Suncoast continuing emergency paid COVID leave for employees, to a degree
Schools on the Suncoast saw a slight decrease in graduates. Statistics show an overall upward trend since 2014. (Source: wwsb)

SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) -Local school districts have had to figure out backup plans after the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act requiring them to cover COVID leave for employees exposed to the virus has now come to an end.

Despite the federal government no longer making it a requirement both school districts on the Suncoast have kept some form of emergency paid COVID leave. Sarasota County School District and Manatee County School District have different plans. Sarasota schools agreed months ago employees would have 20 COVID leave days to use if needed. District representatives say these days are for employees exposed to the virus or who have contracted the virus at work or outside of it.

Employees at Manatee Schools will now have to use their own paid time off if they contract the virus or are exposed to COVID outside of work. District representatives tell ABC7 it’s difficult because they no longer have access to that federal funding so they had to make some tough choices. District spokesperson Mike Barber went on to say the bottom line is if an employee contracts the virus at work then the district will cover the days off. Barber says throughout the last few months the vast majority of cases they’ve seen have been for people exposed outside of the work environment. He says while they’re hopeful the federal government will step up and provide some leave funding they havent so the district had to handle it this way.

“That was only covered because federal money covered that. People are going to have to be careful in their personal lives because they will no longer have that coverage,” said the President of the Manatee Teachers Association, Pat Barber.

Meanwhile representatives with the Sarasota teachers association say they’re pleased with how things have rolled out in their district.

“It alleviated a lot of stress for our employees,” said Sarasota Classified Teachers Association President, Pat Gardner.

Representatives with the district in Sarasota County say they agreed on 20 COVID leave days for employees through the 2020-21 school year.

“The district COVID leave is structured to provide a full 20 days of COVID-related leave for the 2020-21 school year and supplement the federal leave which just expired. Therefore, if an employee has already used 10 days because of a previous quarantine, they now will only have 10 days available. If an employee has not been subject to a district quarantine, they  have 20 days available,” said Sarasota schools spokesperson, Kelsey Whealy.

“We kept it on there to benefit them in case they were sick. And thank goodness with do because we’re hearing that the numbers are going up at the schools a lot,” said Gardner.

On Wednesday afternoon, the president for the teacher association in Manatee County said the possibility of doing something like Sarasota County hasn’t been discussed.

As for how much each school district has spent on COVID leave through the pandemic, Sarasota schools have spent more than $1.4 million.

“The funds currently paying for these leaves are coming from the district’s General Fund, but the hope is that the district can use the 2nd CARES Act to offset those costs. The district used the 1st CARES Act funds to pay for the 5 additional planning and training days we provided to 186 and 196 day staff at the start of the school year,” said Whealy.

Manatee school district representatives said that at the end of December they had spent an estimated $2.2 million on all COVID related leave. The spokesperson for the district in Manatee County said on Wednesday that money is sourced from the General Fund right now but they’re waiting for approval for the CARES ACT.

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