Local education workers fight to retrieve COVID-19 paid leave benefits

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EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Next week on Jan. 19, the El Paso Independent School District could begin phasing in employees and students back in the classroom if COVID-19 infection rates and hospitalizations continue to decline.

However, with COVID paid leave benefits being expired, some employees are concerned about the financial effect that could have.

These benefits, among many others, expired Dec. 31, 2020, and left many workers frustrated. Some teachers and staff feel worried about what happens if they contract the virus as students return to campus.

“The sick leave is essential. We really should have it. COVID isn’t going away,” Patricia Mondello, a bookroom/technology clerk at Franklin High School and Franklin Magnet Center, said.

With pandemic emergency benefits expiring for the new year — such as paid leave benefits for COVID-19 — teachers, faculty and staff like Mondello only have 10 sick days for the entire year.

Norma De La Rosa, president of the El Paso Teachers Association, said any additional sick days used would be docked from employee’s paychecks.

“That’s going to be a very difficult situation for them financially because that’s a lot of money that you’re going to lose when you get docked because you do not have the days to do that,” De La Rosa said.

“For a lot of people, it can literally bankrupt them,” Mondello said. “If they can’t go to work, if they have a relapse of it, it’s not going to be a good thing.”

EPISD sent KTSM 9 News this statement in response to the paid leave benefits expiration:

“EPISD will use its long-standing protocols for extended health-related leave in the case an employee is impacted by the COVID pandemic. The District has established procedures that address an employee’s inability to perform his or her duties in the case of illness. Those procedures follow all state and federal labor laws and practices.”

Many employees say they’d feel more comfortable returning to the classroom after getting vaccinated.

“El Paso Independent School District is the single-largest employer. We have 8,600-plus employees. We should be at the top of the tier,” Mondello shared. “The governor wants all the students back in the school. Well, if you vaccinate as many as the staffers that want it, you don’t have to worry about having all the students back in school.”

“The district is trying to do what it can to get our employees vaccinated. It’s just that when you have as many employees as EPISD does, trying to get the vaccine is going to be difficult,” De La Rosa added.

EPISD said it will be taking a resolution to the school board on Jan. 19 to extend leave to employees in accordance with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).

“Prior to that, any teachers who may have had to quarantine and use their sick days … for those sick days be given back to them and they apply the COVID leave days to that. It’s only right that the district do that and provide the days at no expense to the employees,” De La Rosa said.

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