We don’t want to think about it, but heading back to school this year comes with the risk of contracting COVID-19. Already, as schools have opened up, cases of COVID are being reported among both students and teachers.
We know you’re wearing your mask, keeping students apart, and cleaning your classroom, but what happens if teachers get COVID-19 or have to quarantine? What should you do? And, what are your rights?
We asked Kyle Farmer, lawyer with the Missouri State Teachers Association for more information. Here are the answers to seven questions about COVID-19 and your school year. Disclaimer that this is not legal advice and is for informational purposes only.
If I get COVID-19, do I have to use my sick days?
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, signed into law in March 2020, provides up to 80 additional hours of sick leave to employees for COVID. This is in addition to the sick leave your employer provides. However, beyond those 80 hours, it’s up to each district to decide what to provide. Check with your district to see what their policy is if you need additional time to recover from COVID, or help a loved one recover.
What if I have to quarantine? Do I have to use my sick days to do that?
The 80 hours of additional time provided by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act also applies to quarantine if you are told to do so by the government or a doctor, or if you are taking care of someone who either has COVID or has to quarantine. Your district may have additional policies for this, though, so ask about what the local guidelines are here too.
What if I’m teaching remotely and get sick? Can I take extra time then?
The federal law applies to all employees, whether they are working from home or in person.
When can I go back to school if I have to quarantine or am sick?
This is another district-by-district situation. For example, In Walton County, FL, teachers must get clearance from a doctor or a negative COVID-19 test to return to school. Check with your district to see what the rules are for your area.
What if I have to take more than 2-weeks for something COVID related?
In this case, FMLA (the Family Medical Leave Act) has been expanded so that employees can have up to 10 weeks of paid leave at two-thirds of their pay rate if they cannot work because they have to care for a child because of a school or daycare closure. You would take the 80 hours of paid leave first before the FMLA benefit would kick in. Also, if your school provides you with the resources to work from home you are not eligible for this benefit.
What if I’m new to my school or district? When do these benefits kick in?
You only have to work for 30 days to be eligible for this benefit, so even if you’re new to a school this may apply to you.
If I get COVID-19, what information do I have to report?
If you are exposed to COVID-19 outside of school, you should report this to your principal or human resource department. This is one time when your health privacy has to be waived for public health reasons, says Farmer. You can expect your school or district to report the exposure or case to the local health department. But, they will not report your identifying information.
If you are exposed while teaching, you can expect your school to put out an announcement that does not have any identifying information but does let parents know that there has been an exposure. Of course, schools are small places, and people may figure out which teachers or students were the first to be exposed. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot that can be done about that.
Even though COVID-19 is new, there is a lot that is familiar with these questions. Teachers get sick all the time, so districts should have policies for protecting employees’ privacy if they get sick from COVID or any other illness.
Do you have more questions about what happens when teachers get COVID-19? Post them on our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.