SPRINGFIELD, IL — School district, community college and public university employees who miss work due to COVID-19 may be given administrative leave days under legislation advancing in Springfield.
If an employee is required to isolate or quarantine, the COVID School Employee Benefit and Wage Protection Bill requires employers to provide employees with as many administrative leave days needed to follow all public health guidance, mandates and requirements issued by the Illinois Department of Public Health. In addition, employees would receive administrative days if they need to care for their child in elementary or secondary school who was sent home because of COVID-19 protocols.
“Teachers have faced so many challenges since the pandemic began,” said state Sen. Christopher Belt, D-Swansea. “To go back in person, to teach, to do their jobs, and encounter their students, and quite possibly encounter COVID.”
The measure also allows for any employees contracted through a school district, including custodial and cafeteria staff, to get paid if a school has to transition to remote learning due to COVID-19.
State Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, said she has heard from school superintendents concerned about the costs.
“I do believe that the questions and concerns that our schools have about the implementation, the cost of this, how long the program will go on are valid questions,” Rezin said. “The federal money specifically allocated for the state of Illinois is to go to COVID-related expenses and we all know in this past year we have seen teachers really step up to the plate.”
The legislation also requires school districts to return any sick days used for COVID-19 isolation or quarantine during the current school year.
Belt said the program would only be in effect after the governor implemented a disaster declaration for a public health emergency, and employees must be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing.
The nonpartisan website Wirepoints identified several issues with the legislation, including that the law would be wide open to abuse because it contains no objective limitations.
“A worker could easily claim, for example, that they have a child who was exposed to another with COVID, and if a school is subject to guidance that suggests quarantine, the parent can skip out on work but get full pay,” wrote Mark Glennon and Ted Dabrowski of Wirepoints.
They add most Illinois school districts already face acute shortages of temporary teachers, which could be exacerbated.
“All this should be local school districts’ business, not Springfield’s. But what public unions in Illinois want, they get, and Springfield is fine with shoving the cost to local school districts through yet another unfunded mandate,” they wrote.
The bill passed both the House and Senate and is headed to Governor J.B. Pritzker.