School Board extends COVID-related sick leave policy

Published 11:35 am Friday, September 17, 2021

Calcasieu Parish School Board members approved an extension of the COVID-related Emergency Paid Sick Leave policy. The extension was unanimously approved and grants up to eight days of sick leave for full-time employees and up to four days of sick leave for part-time employees.

Employees qualify for the emergency leave if they are advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine, experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis, caring for an individual who is subject to quarantine or is caring for a child whose school has been closed for a period of time related to COVID-19.

The district had a high number of COVID-19 related absences last year, Skylar Fontenot, risk manager, said. However, the availability and use of the COVID-19 vaccine has improved attendance this year allowing employees who have had a direct exposure to remain in the workplace as long as they remain asymptomatic.

Teri Johnson, Calcasieu Federation of Teachers president, spoke in favor of the extension.

“I know not all workers are getting this opportunity, but across the state, I can tell you there are several school districts doing this for their employees because there’s very little they can do other than this. Using up their sick days when they’re just in quarantine is not a way to use your sick days.”

The board also voted to approve a resolution to borrow $50 million for hurricane damage repairs in the wake of the recent announcement to suspend repairs until progress is made with FEMA reimbursements. Superintendent Karl Bruchhaus said the decision to finance is an alternative solution while the district waits for headway with FEMA.

FEMA reimbursement still remains the ideal solution. “We’re just trying to be in a good position no matter what happens,” he said.

After this month’s announcement to temporarily halt repairs, Bruchhaus said the district has had more calls from congressmen in the last four days than in the whole year since Hurricane Laura. While there’s been no definitive commitment yet from federal entities regarding the reimbursement, the district has received word that the process will now be rushed.

“I’m saying we have made some headway in the last week towards feeling our FEMA window has shortened a bit. We feel like we’re in a much better position timeline-wise than we were a week ago.”

Bruchhaus was careful to remind the board that “until we have money in the bank” for hurricane repairs, work will remain at a standstill.

“When we’re talking about cash flow, we’re talking about money available for hurricane repairs. We’re not talking about employee paychecks. We’re not talking about our regular operating costs. Our cash flow problem is on the capital outlay side of these hurricane projects,” he said.