HOUSTON - Effective August 1st, 2022, Houston ISD will no longer be offering COVID-19 paid sick leave for teachers.
The decision comes amid another nationwide COVID-19 surge, fueled by Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.
That announcement has been met with a lot of pushback from staff members who feel that this policy is unfair to the district's most vulnerable employees.
Michelle Williams, an 8th-grade teacher, and the president of the Houston Education Association is now working to change the policy.
"In my opinion, it was discriminatory; medically discriminatory," said Williams. "What's going to happen is those teachers have to come to school sick. That's just the bottom line. I have a member, and she expressed her concern about it. She had stage three colon cancer last year and her oncologist recommended it and suggested that she not be vaccinated. So, what do you do in those instances?"
A poll conducted by Houston ISD Watch asked more than 230 people, "What are you doing if you catch COVID and are out of sick days?" Nearly 66% of people who answered said that they would go to school sick, rather than the 34.1% who would choose to quarantine and receive a pay cut.
HISD says its teachers accrue a total 10 days of "Paid Time Off" every year that can be taken as vacation or sick days. Unused PTO days can carry over year to year and there is no cap on the amount of PTO a teacher can accrue.
"HISD lost over 5000 teachers last year and 40% of these teachers, this is their data, have less than have five or less years of experience," Williams said. "So when you're talking about days, these young teachers don't have them, they don't have them to give."
Williams said she hopes HISD will allow tenured teachers to utilize the district's 'sick leave bank.'
According to HISD's website, "the Supplemental Sick Leave Bank is a bank of personal leave days given by employees who want to voluntarily participate in a plan to extend leave for employees who have serious illnesses.
"The purpose for creating a supplemental sick leave bank is to allow employees who have used all of their accumulated vacation, state and local leave the opportunity to request up to 30 additional leave days if a catastrophic illness causes an absence from work during the program plan year. As a member of the Supplemental Sick Leave Bank, an employee may receive a benefit of as many as 30 days during the program plan year."
I asked if there was a way where teachers who are part of the sick leave bank can use those 10 of those days or five days so that they can stay home.
In a statement, HISD responded, "at this time there is no plan to request that the board extend the COVID-19 paid sick leave policy. HISD will continue to be driven by data and work in partnership with public health officials to update our mitigation strategy as needed."
"HISD Trustees elected to extend the COVID-19 paid sick leave through the 2021-2022 school year amidst uncertainty regarding coronavirus variants and the establishment of widespread vaccination and testing availability. HISD employees are encouraged to take advantage of available testing and vaccinations as a precaution against the virus. Employees may still use available leave and should not report to work when ill. Employees should follow all HISD protocols."