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Amherst school board OKs emergency sick leave measure in response to COVID-19

Amherst school board OKs emergency sick leave measure in response to COVID-19

Full-time contracted employees of Amherst County Public Schools may be granted up to 20 additional days of paid emergency sick leave if they are exposed to COVID-19 while on the job, according to a new policy.

The Amherst County School Board approved the measure during its Sept. 10 meeting. The policy states employees must exhaust all emergency sick leave days under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act due to being quarantined by ACPS administration as a result of exposure to the virus at work.

Several division employees expressed concern publicly before the board in recent months of reopening school during the pandemic.

Some in the Amherst County Education Association favored an entirely virtual format at least on a temporary basis until COVID-19 cases in Amherst Countysteadily declined, according to public comments given to the board during a July meeting.

The division’s reopening plan initially required facial coverings for students only in buses and not in school buildings, but following division employees’ feedback the board expanded the mask requirement to inside buildings as well as delaying the start of school several weeks to give more time to prepare.

Superintendent Rob Arnold said more sick days for employees provides protections for educators who put themselves in situations of coming into contact with students during the pandemic.

A transition day was held on Sept. 8, the day before the start of the new school year, that helps first-year students get adjusted to their new settings without the entire student body in school. Arnold said that experience especially was helpful for first-year elementary and preschool students in learning mitigation measures such as properly wearing a mask and social distancing.

The board has the ability to end the emergency sick leave policy if the Virginia General Assembly passes any measure more broad in scope on the matter, according to Jim Gallagher, director of human resources.

“We felt like that protection was necessary to support our employees,” Gallagher said

In other news, the board approved a resolution supporting the Amherst County Board of Supervisors in refinancing a loan for a schools’ project authorized in 2016 for infrastructure upgrades in the division’s buildings. According to a report before board members, refinancing the loans would create a savings for the county of about $392,351.

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