Extra COVID depart attainable for Brainerd college staff

Federal Act on Responding to Families with the First Coronavirus, passed in 2020, required certain employers, such as the school district, to grant eligible workers 10 days of paid sick leave for certain reasons related to COVID-19. However, because that legislation ended on December 31st and was not superseded by any other state or federal mandatory vacation requirement, the Brainerd school administrators decided to offer their employees another form of vacation.

“We wanted to investigate how we can still offer our employees a certain protection while we wait for the vaccine, but also know our budget exactly, since the costs of the emergency sick leave are not covered by the CARES money or one of the additional funds that have been made available to us to deal with this pandemic, ”said HR manager Angie Bennett to the board on Monday. “

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The school board members approved a memorandum of understanding with the district collective bargaining unit, which has not yet signed the agreement, to grant eligible employees 10 days of paid sick leave. The grant is for employees who have not exhausted their sick leave prior to the expiration of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and may be used in cases where employees or their children who are students at Brainerd public schools are during or during work hours were exposed to the coronavirus at school. Eligible employees must either have been identified as having close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19 during the work day, or have tested positive themselves after coming into close contact with a case during work hours. In either case, the employee must be someone who is unable to work remotely during the required quarantine period due to an illness or type of position. Employees are also entitled to additional leave if a member of their household who is a student at Brainerd Public Schools has been identified as a close contact in the district so that the employee has to be at home with the student during the quarantine without being able to work remotely .

Employees who come into contact with COVID-19 outside of work are not entitled to additional leave.

Superintendent Laine Larson would have the authority to approve additional paid leave beyond the 10 days on a case-by-case basis if, for example, an employee becomes seriously ill and has to be home or hospital for an extended period.

If approved by the tariff unit, the memorandum of understanding runs from January 1st to March 31st. Administrators have been told that vaccine doses may be ready for district officials by late March or early April. If other federal or state sick leave guidelines go into effect before March 31, the Memorandum of Understanding will end.

“I think that’s a good thing we should do,” said board member Ruth Nelson. “We should protect our teachers.”

Board member Tom Haglin said while he would ultimately approve the move, he hesitated as the deal appeared to have too many red flags.

“I understand our people and their needs, but it seems like we are really focusing on other businesses and companies and not taking them into account,” he said. “… I’m just a little apprehensive of putting together such a short-lived letter of intent that I usually think more review is needed.”


Haglin said he had some concerns and was concerned about putting undue pressure on Larson by designating her as the final decision-maker for granting an extended vacation.

“Once you do it, you will set precedents,” he said. “I’m worried about that.

Larson said other district policies, including those related to health care, contain similar clauses to help alleviate the situation.

“It’s not something you do very lightly, but there are times when that authority is really nice,” Larson said.

And while the memorandum is short-lived – unlike actions in other districts that last the remainder of the school year – Larson believes it is a good gesture by the administrators.

“We really believe this is a modified plan, a memorandum of understanding telling our staff we are getting it,” she said. “They come back to school under certain parameters that make them really uncomfortable. … And so we just want them to know we’re going to try to accommodate them and work with them. It’s short term for the vaccine to come out, but we believe it’s a nice, happy medium to show that we really care and get it. “

Bennett said the memorandum had been reviewed by the district lawyer, who had been working with other districts across the state on similar actions.

CEO Bob Nystrom said he shared some of Haglin’s concerns.

“I don’t like agreements because they almost turn into legal documents and people will say, ‘Well, there it is. You are legally bound, ”said Nystrom. “I find it regrettable that we have to make a declaration of intent. Why don’t we just have to have a policy to allow this to happen in the extraordinary circumstances we find ourselves in? “

Bennett said it had to be a memorandum because the measure grants additional vacation under an already negotiated contract. If it were a board decision, all areas of emergency sick leave would have to be expanded under the Family First Coronavirus Response Act and the extended Family and Medical Leave Act.

“(The Letter of Intent) has a clear start and end date. This does not mean that there will be anything in the contract in the future as it would not necessarily be, ”said Bennett. “Hopefully we will be in a different situation when we negotiate the next contract.”
Nelson said the end date was one of the reasons she was happy with the measure.

Board member Jana Shogren said the memorandum makes a lot of sense and may add additional motivation to the district when it comes to mitigation tactics.

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“As adults, we really should be extra careful with social distancing,” she said.

Bennett agreed and added part of their motivation for this agreement to protect district workers who are unable to work remotely, such as cooks and supervisors, and who are no longer on sick leave.

“I would feel very bad for an employee if we had to do a 14-day quarantine and say, ‘I’m sorry you don’t get paid,’ and suddenly your district contribution to your services no longer exists,” said Bennett .

A professional in a leadership role, board member Charles Black Lance said he saw the legitimate fear after asking employees to return to work.

“I feel that this is an important step that we as a school district can take to stand behind the staff who go to school, go to work or have to go to work and who have chosen to work despite that fear . Black Lance said. “And if that can help alleviate some of that and fill in some of these loopholes that may be for them, I’m all for it.”

The motion was finally accepted unanimously.

THERESA BOURKE can be reached at [email protected] or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.

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