Schools Are Abandoning COVID Leave Policies, Even Though The Virus is Still Surging
In 2021, many school districts offered their staff extra days of leave if they had to miss work due to the COVID-19 virus. This was made possible by federal funds, which allowed individual school districts to create sick leave banks for their employees.
As the 2022/2023 school year begins, these federal funds are running dry, and many school districts have to ditch their COVID leave policies. Without a federally mandated and financed leave policy in the United States, each local jurisdiction and school district will need to make its own decisions regarding COVID leave.
Yet, while leave policies rapidly disappear, COVID is still here. The virus is spreading and causing significant long-term health issues, and measures must be taken to safeguard the health of school staff and students.
In this article, we’ll look at some of the consequences of ditching COVID leave policies and how administrators can make the school environment safer.
This access to paid leave has been an essential (and often under-acknowledged) element in keeping schools functioning safely during the pandemic. After all, without paid leave, school staff may be more likely to return to work while they are still contagious.
While COVID leave policies may be phased out, the virus is still running rampant. Hundreds of Americans are still dying daily of the virus, and tens of thousands are hospitalized. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 42% of U.S. counties currently have high levels of community spread, and another 37% have medium levels.
Also, a significant percentage of people who have caught COVID report long-term symptoms that persist for months or even years. According to an Education Week survey, 1 in 5 educators says they have experienced Long Covid symptoms.
One crucial factor administrators need to consider is how their leave policies will affect recruitment in the future. With the growing competition to recruit and retain employees, extra paid leave could be a highly valuable offering. Schools that require their staff to take their own sick days if they contract COVID may find it difficult to hire quality educators and keep them.
Many school district leaders aren’t sure what best practices are for handling the decreasing policy response and rising virus risk. While many insist on treating the virus like a typical cold or flu, there’s no doubt that the current variant is highly contagious and can have severe health impacts.
COVID leave policies have the potential to impact both students and school staff negatively. For example, in March 2022, Kentucky lawmakers voted to change the state’s school COVID leave requirements. School employees in the state must use their own sick leave before they become eligible for additional paid time off, even if they have COVID-19.
Employees without a bank of sick days may find themselves having to sacrifice their pay while they quarantine. Or they may feel pressured to return to work before they have fully recovered. This is an incredible hardship for many teachers living paycheck to paycheck.
Although it’s tempting to move past COVID-19 leave policies and act as if everything is “back to normal,” the data makes it clear that the virus is still very much an important consideration within our “new normal.” At the moment, some school districts may be granting extensions to COVID-19 leave policies, but these don’t seem to be enough to cover the full impact of the virus.
In August of 2022, the Round Rock Independent School District in Texas granted an additional 5 paid “Employee COVID-19 Positive Extended Leave” days for employees who test positive for the virus. This is a step in the right direction, but it will likely not be enough.
A growing number of people have reported getting COVID more than once, and only a few months apart. This means that the virus has the potential for repeat infections, and school staff may need to take several days of leave within a short period of time.
A comprehensive approach to health and virus prevention is needed to protect both students and teachers in the coming school year. In addition to robust COVID-19 leave policies, it’s also essential for schools to improve their indoor air quality.
With the right air purification technology, school administrators can create a healthier classroom environment and help prevent the spread of viruses. For example, ActivePure Technology is an active purifier that uses oxidizing molecules to significantly reduce viruses, bacteria, odors, and VOCs. ActivePure comes in various systems that can be customized and scaled to your building, regardless of size.
Not only will these technologies help mitigate COVID-19 risks, but they will also reduce the level of absenteeism in general by reducing the spread of other seasonal coughs, colds, and viruses. ActivePure doesn’t just reduce SARS-CoV-2 (the virus which causes COVID-19) and protects against E.coli, Avian Influenza, Norovirus, Swine Flu, Staph Bacteria, and more.
The typical student goes to school from 8 am until 3 pm for 180 days per year. That’s roughly 1,260 hours per year spent in a classroom. The developing bodies of children are often more susceptible to environmental pollution than those of adults, as children breathe more air in proportion to their body weight than adults.
Numerous studies show that indoor air quality significantly impacts academic performance, productivity, and concentration. For example, in one study, students in classrooms with better air ventilation rates scored 14-15% higher on standardized test scores than children with lower air ventilation rates.
The air quality of their environment matters, and it impacts the health of this generation - right now and in the future.
This is why it’s so essential for our schools to be safe and healthy places where students can learn and succeed. From COVID-19 leave policies to improved air purification, school districts need to put long-term viral mitigation strategies in place to ensure the safety of both students and teachers.
Sanalife offers long-term indoor air quality solutions designed for the specific needs of school buildings. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you improve the air quality within your educational facility.
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