MMSD board member calls for reinstatement of COVID-19 leave for staff members

MADISON, Wis. — A Madison school board member is calling on the school district to make changes to its COVID-19 leave policy after the district stopped providing COVID-specific leave earlier this year.

Board Clerk Nicki Vander Meulen said she began hearing about six weeks ago about a policy change that required staff members to use personal paid time off if they had to wait for a COVID-19 test.

“I got to thinking, this is — for our hourly employees especially, but for all our employees — this is a huge burden,” she said.

Vander Meulen said she asked on October 18 that the topic be taken up by the school board but that it was not added to a subsequent meeting agenda. While she said she was told at the time that “negotiations were ongoing,” staff members are the ones who are suffering in the interim, she told News 3 Now in an interview.

“They’re already risking their lives being in the building and since the beginning, many were first responders and many were on the front lines. The least we could do as a district is provide them with adequate… a policy for adequate sick leave because of COVID,” she said.

Previously, the district had provided COVID-specific leave time as required by the federal government, but that ended in September, district spokesperson Tim LeMonds said in an email.

“This is a challenge for school districts across the country and around Wisconsin,” he wrote. “From April to September 2020, school districts were required by the federal government to provide COVID specific leave time for staff. When the federal requirement expired in September 2020, MMSD continued to provide the coverage through September 2021.”

The district’s current policy states that a teacher who is vaccinated and identified as a close contact but does not show symptoms is not required to quarantine, LeMonds said. If a vaccinated teacher does show symptoms, they have to quarantine for at least five days and can then return after a negative test.

Just under 98% of district staff members have been vaccinated, he added.

Staff members can use paid time off for quarantine leave, and once their balance is used up, they can use unpaid leave, LeMonds said.

The board will take up discussion on the topic Monday at 5:30 p.m. before its regularly scheduled meeting.