PORTSMOUTH, Va. - Portsmouth teachers who are currently using their own paid time off for COVID-19-related exposures, listen up.
Thursday night, school board leaders held a special meeting that changed that. Now, the schools will provide paid leave.
This COVID-19 leave policy would only apply to teachers who are fully vaccinated and only if the exposure happens at work.
But still, many say this will help with teacher retention and morale.
Many Portsmouth teachers on the front lines of the pandemic can now feel a sense of relief after Portsmouth School Board members voted unanimously to make sure teachers no longer have to use their own sick time to quarantine from an exposure to COVID-19 or the illness itself.
“We don’t feel it’s fair that they use their own time when we the school division or the health department say you have to quarantine,” said Dr. Elie Bracy, superintendent of Portsmouth Public Schools. “That’s something that was out of their control, so it’s not fair for them to have to use their own time.”
The new COVID paid leave policy has been budgeted through the school district’s general fund – paid for by taxpayers like parent Rebecca Ellsworth, who supports the move.
“It’s a hard time for everyone, especially teachers right now, so any support that we can add to them is important right now,” Ellsworth said.
Young kids like her 7-year-old son, Levi, are not yet eligible to get the vaccine, and with kids back to in-person learning five days a week, teachers could be at risk.
Protecting Portsmouth teachers is something education advocate Sergio Neal has been pushing for.
“I wanted to make sure our teachers that are still on front lines feel valued and feel respected for what they do, and it seems like a very fair policy,” said Neal. “At the end of the day they’re still putting themselves at risk.”
But there are some exceptions to the COVID Leave policy. It would only apply to fully vaccinated teachers and if the exposure happens at work.
“We really just want to ensure that although we’re facing tough times through this pandemic, that teachers know the school division is supporting them, and we’re trying to protect them as best we can and keep them safe,” said Portsmouth School Board Chairman Dr. Cardell Patillo, Jr.
If they have to quarantine, qualified teachers would be able to use up to 10 days for each work-related incident. If they have to be out longer than that, they’d have to use their own sick time.
“We all deserve our time away from work where we can relax and wind down and it shouldn’t be when we're sick or quarantining,” Ellsworth said.
And if they are exposed and are fully vaccinated but not showing symptoms, they don’t need to self-isolate.
Neal calls it a win, saying it’ll help teachers – who are in short supply these days - want to come back to work.
“Because Portsmouth has such a high need, let me say it in that perspective, for qualified teachers, we can’t afford to lose any,” said Neal. “With the need that we have in our community, we can’t afford to lose any of those teachers. We need to make sure that every opportunity we have to retain teachers, we do that.”
Teachers have to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 6 to qualify for the paid leave, and it is retroactive for those who’ve already had to use their own sick time.