North East Independent School District is one of two area systems that could force employees to use personal or unpaid time if exposed to COVID-19 in 2021. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

At least two San Antonio school districts will require teachers and other staff to use their personal leave if they have already used federally mandated paid leave after being exposed to the coronavirus.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) provision that required school districts and other workplaces to provide workers with up to 10 days of paid sick leave if they had COVID-19 or had to quarantine after exposure to the disease expired Dec. 31. The act also required employers to pay two-thirds of workers’ salary for up to 10 days to care for someone in quarantine and up to 10 weeks if they could not work because they were taking care of their children.

While several area school districts implemented similar policies after the federal provision expired, some districts limited the paid sick leave to workers who had not used the federally required sick time, discounting the possibility of multiple exposures to the coronavirus as the pandemic continues to surge.

On Monday, Bexar County reported three more fatalities attributed to COVID-19, the official count rising to 1,812. More than 32,000 Texans have died from COVID-19 complications.

The North East and Southwest independent school districts boards of trustees adopted resolutions this week extending certain provisions of the FFCRA. But both boards decided that employees who had already used the 10 days of paid sick leave would have to use their own personal leave or not get paid at all if they were instructed not to report to work because they had to quarantine.

North East ISD’s policy also states that if an employee’s child has to quarantine, then that employee would have to use personal leave if they have already used their 10 days under the FFCRA.

Patsy Esterline, North East American Federation of Teachers president, said at Monday’s board meeting that the union opposed the board’s move and favors extending the 10-day paid leave for all employees, even if they have used the FFCRA benefits before.

“You can get exposed to the coronavirus more than once,” she said. “If they don’t have the days and they were exposed again, and you’re telling them that they need to quarantine, then they need to be paid for that time.”

Esterline added that employees also need to be paid if they have to stay home to care for a child that has COVID-19 or been exposed to the disease.

The Southwest ISD board adopted a similar resolution Tuesday, but the policy allows educators to work from home if they have to quarantine or use their sick days. District officials said during the meeting that workers should not have to quarantine multiple times if they follow safety precautions, such as wearing a mask and not gathering in large groups.

Meanwhile, Northside and San Antonio ISDs adopted policies that allow employees to use another 10 days if they have to quarantine due to exposure or a positive test result. Northside also provides paid leave for employees who need to care for someone with COVID-19.

Melina Espiritu-Azocar, lead organizer for Northside American Federation of Teachers, said the union’s members were relieved the district decided to extend the leave policy for which they had been advocating.

“We’re very grateful and glad that the district made the right decision,” she said.

San Antonio ISD spokeswoman Laura Short said the district’s board of trustees adopted a policy earlier this school year to provide paid leave when employees exceed the federally mandated 10 days and need to quarantine.

“We could foresee instances of employees having multiple exposures over the course of the pandemic, and we wanted to ensure that employees who were contagious did not come to work,” she said. “Although FFCRA expired, this wellness leave for SAISD employees is still available, with procedural guidelines in place for its use.”

The Judson ISD board will consider a resolution Jan. 21 to extend some of the paid leave benefits that the FFCRA provided, district spokeswoman Nicole Taguinod said. The district’s recommendation to the board does not apply to workers who have already used the full 10 days allotted under the federal act.

Brooke Crum

Brooke Crum is the San Antonio Report's education reporter.