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School districts across central Arkansas discuss extending paid COVID-19 leave

The paid leave for teachers and staff given by the state and federal government last semester expired on Dec. 31.

CONWAY, Ark. — On Tuesday night at the Conway School Board meeting, the board will vote on a resolution for the extension of paid leave related to COVID-19 for teachers and staff.

It's a decision that many school districts are having to make after the paid leave for teachers and staff, given by the state and federal government last semester, expired on Dec. 31. 

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Conway Public Schools Superintendent Greg Murry said the extension of the leave is vital for his staff. 

"We know that these are unusual circumstances for our employees and so we are trying to be as benevolent and understanding as we can," he said.

When COVID-19 hit, school districts got help from the state and federal government to still pay their employees for up to 20 days if they caught the virus or had to be quarantined.

Now that the expiration date is up, districts have to decide if they can take that on financially.

Murry said Conway Public Schools hopes to help the staff during this already stressful year.

"We want them to be able to do their work without the pressure of having to worry about sick days," he said.

The district is proposing an extension of this paid leave for the same amount of days as last semester and will run up until June 30, according to Murry.

"It's just providing an opportunity for the employee not to be penalized by taking their sick days for circumstances that are truly beyond their control," he said.

A similar discussion was brought up at the Little Rock School District's School Board Work Session on Monday night. 

Superintendent Michael Poore said they have had no direction from the state, so they need to come up with a plan on their own.

"We want to get to a place where we can give our employees a sense of relief that, 'Oh okay, we are in a good place, this has been taken care of,'" he said.

At its first reading, LRSD board members were presented with three ideas for consideration: authorize 10 days of COVID paid sick leave, 20 days of COVID paid sick leave, or authorize it with no cap for each employee.

Several people, like LaKeitha Austin, who is the Certified Personnel Policy Committee Chair, shared their thoughts to figure out what's best for their staff. 

"We just didn't want anyone to have to choose between, 'Oh my check is now going to be docked. I can't afford to stay at home, so I am just going to keep quiet and go ahead and go to work,'" she said.

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Pulaski County Special School District and the Cabot School District have both already extended this leave. 

It is expected to go before the Bryant School Board late next week.