CCSD needs to address the district’s punitive leave policy

The CDC recently shared a case study about a teacher who infected half her students with COVID. While some may focus on her decision to remove her mask temporarily for read aloud time, the tragedy is that she felt compelled to report to work even though she was coughing, sneezing, and felt feverish. Her symptoms had prompted her to get tested for COVID. But she still reported for work while she was waiting for her COVID test to be processed. By the time she received her test results days later, confirming she was COVID positive, she had already infected her students, who went on to infect their families and friends.    

Our community can’t risk this scenario playing out in our schools. That’s why it’s so concerning that the Clark County School District continues to punish teachers for staying home when they show symptoms of COVID. It’s a policy that needs to change.

For years, CCSD has operated under a policy that takes away personal leave days from teachers who stay home sick. Teachers who come in to work coughing and sneezing are rewarded with additional personal days the following year. They get certificates for perfect attendance. Their principals laud them as dedicated professionals who don’t burden their schools with absences. Teachers have long been conditioned to push through their illnesses and report for work. In normal times, this misguided policy resulted in kids getting bronchitis and pneumonia. COVID poses a far higher risk to our community. 

The CDC and OSHA both recommended early in the pandemic that employers abandon pre-pandemic punitive leave policies. Many school districts changed their sick leave policies in response to this guidance. Yet CCSD did nothing to change the incentives of its sick and personal leave policy.     

Teachers are required to complete a self-assessment of their symptoms each morning. Yet the incentives to report to work while sick remain in place. District policy will still take away personal leave days if a teacher stays home sick, just as it did pre-pandemic. Principals will still frown on the absence. A teacher who wakes up in the morning with a cough would still feel compelled to fudge the truth a bit on her self-assessment and report to the classroom. 

That’s what the teacher in the CDC’s case study did. She fooled herself into believing that her symptoms were just allergies. And at least two dozen students and their families paid the price.    

No one should have to worry that their child’s teacher is going to infect them with COVID. The cost of a sub, at less than $150 a day, is quickly dwarfed by the cost of a single vulnerable child or family member being hospitalized because a student was infected at school. With hundreds of millions of federal dollars being showered on our state to combat this pandemic, CCSD’s pennywise approach to public health seems awfully pound-foolish.

Trustees decided last week to authorize a COVID vaccination mandate, but they also need to address the district’s punitive leave policy. CCSD’s pre-pandemic leave policy must change. No teacher should feel compelled to report to work while sick.    

Steven Gaskill is a CCSD middle school science teacher.