Upshur BOE approves COVID-19 employee paid leave program

TENNERTON – The Upshur County Board of Education on Tuesday approved a COVID-19 leave program, which will provide school system employees who cannot attend work due to contracting the virus or having to quarantine due to virus exposure with up to 10 days of paid leave.

The program proposal passed by a vote of 4-1, with BOE member Dr. Greenbrier Almond dissenting.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act provided school personnel with 10 days of pay should they contract COVID-19 or require time in quarantine because of exposure to COVID; however, that ended with the new year.

During Tuesday’s Upshur County Board of Education meeting, BOE members approved a COVID-19 leave program proposal by a vote of 4-1. Almond voted to oppose the program while BOE President Dr. Tammy Samples, BOE Vice President Katie Loudin, Pat Long and Kristi Wilkerson voted in favor of the program, which will provide up to 10 days of paid leave to employees who cannot attend work because of exposure to COVID-19 or due to having developed COVID-19.

Upshur County Schools Treasurer Jeffrey Perkins said he had been directed by Upshur County Superintendent Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus to check and see what other West Virginia County BOEs were offering as far COVID leave.

Loudin asked Perkins if there was any indication that the federal government would offer more support for those taking time off due to COVID or COVID-related quarantine.

Perkins said there were still many unknown factors as of Tuesday evening.

“I don’t know,” Perkins said. “I also don’t know what Congress and the new president will do. There is a new bill that is supposed to come forward, but we don’t know what will be in there. They don’t know what will be in there.”

Samples said when she is in public and asked questions, the number one question asked is about spending money and being fiscally responsible.

“We have been, over the last couple of years, at the bottom,” Samples said. “We have been a county that has been distressed, and we are steadily moving out of that. I am nervous about that, and it’s not that I don’t want to help our employees, but I also want us to be fiscally responsible. I have been thinking and I wanted to see if we could come up with something where we provide a certain number of days and then the employee would do a certain number of days.”

Wilkerson asked about the directive from the State Department of Education, and Stankus said counties may offer days for those with COVID or those quarantined because of exposure to COVID; however, Stankus said the funding needed to come from ‘local’ sources.

“That makes it challenging because they watch us closely on our finances,” Wilkerson said. “What are other counties offering?”

Perkins said other counties offered a variety of options regarding the number of days, with the preponderance of school districts choosing 10 days.

“There was also one county that offered three days,” he said.

Dr. Jeffery Harvey, director of school safety and emergency preparedness, told BOE members that the majority of school personnel who were COVID positive or quarantined because of COVID exposure were able to return within 14 days – which would include 10 working days and two weekends.

“The 14 days has been sufficient,” Harvey said. “There have been some isolated cases where somebody did test positive late in the quarantine – but by and large, the majority of folks were in the 14-day window.”

Stankus said she thought the BOE needed to do something for their employees but emphasized fiscal responsibility.

“It has to be within the boundaries of our budget,” she said.

Long said he thought it was extremely important to support the Upshur County School employees.

“We need to support our employees – our service personnel, in particular,” Long said. “They are at dire risk of suffering great financial loss. They don’t have the ability to work remotely, so I think it is important to offer something – even if it is just a 10-day period. If we offer nothing, that is totally heartless. We have been spending money on technology left and right. Our people are the most important part of our operation. I like the 10-day option.”

Perkins reminded everyone the proposal is a limited-time program.

“We are suggesting it begins retroactively on Jan. 1, 2021 but remember this is a program – not a policy,” Perkins said. “It has an ending date. It ends on 30 June 2021. A policy would go forward. This is just a program. If something comes out from the federal government or the virus goes away, we can stop this program at any time.”

Samples added the program could be stopped if it became cost-prohibitive for the BOE.

Long made a motion to offer up to 10 days of pay for employees who have COVID or are quarantined because of COVID exposure. To his motion, he added a provision that the program needs to be revisited at each BOE meeting to assess how the program is progressing, which will allow for the BOE to limit the program or eliminate the program. Loudin seconded the motion which passed 4-1 with Almond voting against it.

In other business, BOE member Kristi Wilkerson and her husband, Curtis, donated 3,000 masks to the Upshur County School System. Wilkerson said they thought that small children might rip their masks or others could be in need of masks.

“Not being able to have everyone vaccinated either, prior to reopening in-person learning, we thought this would help,” Wilkerson said.

Melinda Stewart, director of secondary curriculum, gave an update on remote learning and student achievement, saying the Hodgesville Elementary School had a very successful synchronized learning day.

“They had the TEAMS meeting going for those who were full-time remote learning as well as the teacher teaching in the classroom. The students were able to interact with one another. Students at home were raising their hands and participating, and they were excited about the interaction of peers that had not happened in a long time,” Stewart said.

Loudin asked Stewart, if by the first February BOE meeting, she could present a report on families who have selected the in-person option versus remote and how that looks different from last fall.

“I would like to see where everyone has landed and how the transition overall has gone as well,” Loudin stated.

Stewart said letters went out to parents of children in the WV Learns program.

“[With] those who are struggling or who did not participate, or those with little interaction, [we] strongly encouraged them to move back to either full-time remote or in-person learning,” Stewart said. “There have been a number of parents who have been contacting Ms. (Jennifer) Drake or the BOE office to make the move back. I think WV Learns is difficult and with some of the bumps in the road, some of our families struggled. I do not think they anticipated the struggle would be as much as what [it turned out to be].”

“We are piloting a program called K12, and we are using some of our children from WV Learns,” Stewart added. “It is similar to WV Learns but the pilot uses WV Standards. We will pay for that, but they will send all of the materials the student needs to their home. The students can keep those materials as they complete those experiments. We are looking at this as an alternative if we have students who are more successful there.”

Tim Derico, director of facilities, said the bid opening for the roof project at Union Elementary School was last Thursday and said out of the seven companies at the pre-bid meeting, six contractors submitted bids.

“Those bids ranged between $465,930 by Murray Sheet Metal from Parkersburg to $775,814,” he said. “Murray Sheet Metal was the successful bidder, which is unofficial until the rest of their paperwork is submitted.”

Derico said the project will begin around March 1 when he hopes the weather will be more cooperative. He said the company estimates the job will take 60 days, which is an aggressive time frame. He also said that the HVAC team who installed the system will be lifting the systems from the roof when Murray replaces the roof, which he feels is a positive.

Harvey said as of Tuesday, Jan. 19, the Upshur County School System has approximately 50 people who are under quarantine, 47 of whom are students.

“There will not be a vaccine clinic for school employees this week,” Harvey said. “We have about 150 people left to get vaccinated. We did do 130 additional vaccines this last Friday which brings our total up to 220 who have had their first vaccine.”

Please come back to My Buckhannon to learn about the awards, recognitions and Upshur Stars presented to Upshur County students, staff and volunteers during Tuesday’s meeting. Also, learn about the discussion regarding a proposed Upshur County Schools Strength and Conditioning Coordinator that was recommended by the Upshur County Wellness and Child Nutrition Director Eddie Vincent.

The next Upshur County BOE meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021 at Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School.

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