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Maine teachers call on lawmakers to reinstate COVID-19 leave

Logan Landry
Robert F. Bukaty
/
AP file
Social studies teacher Logan Landry speaks to his class of seventh graders at the Bruce M. Whittier Middle School, Friday, Jan. 29, 2021, in Poland, Maine.

Maine teachers are calling on the Legislature to reinstate additional leave for COVID-19 as they continue to deal with virus-related outbreaks.

A bill passed last June required that districts provide their staff with up to 15 days of sick leave for COVID-19 symptoms, quarantines and child care needs caused by the pandemic.

But many school districts believe that the leave expired in mid-October, based on guidance from a law firm — though the bill's sponsors say that wasn't their intention. A new bill would clarify those rules and reinstate leave for COVID-19.

Krystal Ash-Cuthbert, a teacher and head of the teachers' union in Scarborough, told the Legislature's labor and housing committee on Monday that a lack of leave was affecting teachers across her district, including one who she said stayed home, without pay, to care for her son after he was designated a close contact.

"To go without pay for following the rules that your district and your state have set in place doesn't seem quite fair. And I can name dozens of people who are in the same situation as her in my district," Ash-Cuthbert said.

But Maine School Management Association Executive Director Steve Bailey says many districts are already working with teachers on COVID leave policies, and he says those decisions should be left with local school districts.

"We don't believe that passing statewide rules around COVID leave is appropriate or necessary," Bailey said. "Districts are adopting them when they are needed."

As of last week, Maine schools had reported more than 11,000 COVID-19 cases over the past 30 days.