School district ties ‘COVID leave’ to employee vaccines

By Bobby Bryant, Editor

The Darlington County School District will continue to give paid leave to teachers and staff members who lose work days because of COVID-19 infections or quarantines, but only if they have had at least one vaccination shot. “Some people may think this is controversial,” Education Superintendent Tim Newman said. “Sometimes, you just have to take a stand for what you think is right.” Newman sees the policy – approved by the county School Board during a special called meeting Aug. 23 – as a way to encourage teachers and staffers to get vaccinated. The district advises vaccinations for all employees, but it’s not mandatory. “If you’re going to work around kids, and work in schools, and everybody around you is saying ‘Get vaccinated,’ we need to get vaccinated,” Newman said. Teachers and staffers had already been getting paid “COVID leave” – through federal funds – if they tested positive for the virus or had to be quarantined because of exposure to it. This allowed the employees to avoid using up their regular sick time. But the federal money the district had been getting for this expired at the end of the fiscal year June 30. The district had to decide whether to continue the program with its own funds. Newman recommended to the board that they keep the program going, with one caveat – employees had to be vaccinated, or at least partially vaccinated. Employees will have to provide documentation showing they’ve had at least one COVID shot. Exemptions will be offered to employees with medical or religious reasons for not wanting the vaccinations. “We’ve looked at this a lot of different ways,” Newman told the board. He noted that the FDA has fully approved the Pfizer COVID vaccine for regular use. Also, he noted, Gov. Henry McMaster is promoting vaccinations. So are House Speaker Jay Lucas and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham. “The message is pretty clear.” Newman said he does not want to mandate vaccinations. “But at some point in time, now that it’s been approved by the FDA, you’re going to see a lot of things start happening with businesses. … There are school districts across the country already mandating vaccines. Some for employees, some for kids. You can watch this thing and see where it’s going.” By tying “COVID leave” to vaccinations, Newman said, it gives teachers and staff members more incentive to get inoculated. He called it a “reward for those folks that are willing to get vaccinated.”

Author: Stephan Drew

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