Worker Correspondents: School District Won’t Provide COVID Sick Days

By a Nashville Teacher

While Nashville is seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) does not see a need to provide protection for us teachers or students. Shortly before the winter break, MNPS decided to get rid of all our COVID sick days, only to emphasize during our professional development before the spring semester that we should stay home if we have any symptoms. Originally those who were vaccinated had COVID sick days and those who were not didn’t. However, the state decided you could not have two separate rules, so rather than give everyone sick days, they just took them away from all of us. They act like they want us to take care of ourselves without providing the resources—in this case, COVID sick days—to do so.

If we get COVID, we have to quarantine for 5 days or until symptoms are gone, which can take many more than 5 days. If we took the time we need to recover from COVID, we would use up at least half of our sick days, which we only get 10 of for the year. We also have to use our sick days for doctor’s appointments. Once teachers use up their sick days, then MNPS will start docking their pay.

Teachers across the country, including the Chicago Teachers Union, are fighting for better COVID precautions that go beyond remote learning, such as increased COVID testing. The monopoly media has placed a great deal of emphasis on remote learning, obscuring teachers’ actual demands.

Our school is a low-income school with students from working-class families. It is extremely difficult for students at our low-income school to learn through remote learning because they do not have homes with good internet and learning spaces. Many of our students share small homes and apartments with many family members, making online school difficult to focus on. Almost all the students have only the low-quality laptops provided to them by the school to try to do online work from. Our students are already behind in their education from the last time they were online, and we know this would set our kids back even further.

On top of all this, our families depend on the school to watch and provide meals to their students while they are at work. Our students get breakfast and lunch at school, and many are given food bags to take home over the weekend. Most teachers at my school do not want us to go to remote learning, we just want basic COVID procedures, especially sick days.

Along with our school taking away our sick days, they have also done away with contact tracing. Now, if a student is known to be in close contact with someone with COVID, they no longer have to quarantine even though many of our students are not vaccinated. If someone is vaccinated and tests positive but doesn’t show symptoms they can take classes as normal.

We just want basic safety measures put in place. When talking to one of my coworkers about her thoughts on this, she said what we need is “more testing and N95 [masks] for everyone. Kids and teachers.” Along with these measures, if the school board gave teachers the sick time off they needed and were contact tracing, we could limit COVID spreading and stay in person while keeping people safe.

Instead, this past semester there were times when four out the nine teachers in my grade were out sick with COVID. MNPS is also facing a substitute teacher shortage, so we had to split the kids from each class between the remaining teachers. With four teachers out, at times I would have between 10 to 12 extra students in my class when I normally have between 18 and 30. I didn’t even have seats for them all. So, instead of social distancing we are cramming more students into classes.

And even if we wanted to go remote and knew that was the best option, we couldn’t even do that because the Tennessee Department of Education and recent state laws prevent us school districts in Tennessee from going back to remote learning.

If the school district cared about the health and safety of their students and teachers, they would give us back our COVID sick days, provide N95 masks and COVID testing, and contact tracing to limit the spread of COVID.

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