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Officials secure fair COVID leave for employees

By Meg Dickens
Staff Writer

The Johnson County School Board discussed extending paid leave related to COVID-19 exposure during its September 10 board meeting. Currently, exposed employees under quarantine receive compensation for the first 10 days, two workweeks, through the United States Department of Labor’s Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). COVID-19 exposure guidelines through the state of Tennessee now require 24 total days of isolation, which amounts to about three-and-a-half workweeks. This leaves approximately a week-and-a-half of unpaid law-mandated leave.

“This is something Ms. Lipford and I wanted to bring to the board’s attention,”Director of Schools Mischelle Simcox explained. “Tennessee changed its guidelines about a month ago. If you’re in isolation, not if you’ve tested positive, but if you live with someone who has, you have to be isolated for 24 days. That goes above and beyond what FCCRA allows us to do.”

Simcox suggests using reserve money and funds from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund, which stems from the CARES Act, to help fill in the gaps.

“The funds for the employee is budgeted,” Finance Director Tina Lipford told the board. “It’s going to be the subs that we have to pick up, where we’re going to run into this.”

Johnson County Schools reserved approximately $25,000 of ESSER money for leaves and similar situations but not enough to account for the extended isolation mandate. According to Simcox, other school systems “are having the same problems.”

“I have sent our concerns not only to the Department of Health but to the State Department as well,” Simcox told the board. “I know in speaking with Chris McCarty (Johnson County Schools lawyer) and other directors, they also are voicing the same concerns because these are not things we have budgeted.”

The board voted unanimously to extend coverage by 15 days to cover the additional state-required days, which Chairman Howard Carlton called “extraordinary circumstances.” After the allotted days, any days they choose to stay home afterward count as sick leave.

The Johnson County School Board meets the second Thursday of each month for its regularly scheduled meetings. View board meetings live or through archives on the Johnson County Schools TN Video YouTube channel.