All Halifax County Public School employees will now get 10 COVID-19 sick days using COVID-19 relief funds.

Halifax County School Board made this unanimous decision when they met Thursday evening.

Prior to this change, if a vaccinated employee contracted COVID-19, he or she would be given 10 paid sick days in order to quarantine, and per the school’s policies, vaccinated employees only quarantine if he or she tests positive.

However, those who were unvaccinated had to use their own sick days. Unvaccinated employees have to quarantine if he or she tests positive for COVID-19 or has been exposed to COVID-19.

More than 80% of Halifax County Public School employees are vaccinated, according to superintendent Dr. Mark Lineburg.

Head school nurse Tina Slabach also pointed out that less than five vaccinated employees have tested positive for COVID-19 so far this school year.

The idea to change the school system’s policy on paying sick leave for all employees who have contracted COVID-19 came following a presentation when numerous central office employees outlined what the school system had spent using coronavirus relief funds and how they were addressing student learning loss.

Prior to the start of this school year, students had not been in a classroom five days a week since early March of 2020, and as director of elementary education Lisa Long explained to the board “average students need to make two years and two months gains in 180 days” to catch up.

Numerous central office employees outlined what the school system had spent using $119,700 in Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEERS) Fund, $1,305,773.21 in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds (ESSER) I and $4,973,722.12 ESSER II funds.

To help students, they’ve invested in tools such as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt literacy program, Waggle, a web-based program to assist with math and English language arts standards, and Words Their Way.

They also used this federal funding for summer success programs, Promethean boards, desktop cameras, improving their firewalls and HVAC and purchasing buses.

With ESSER III funds, which was just over $11 million, they used more than 50% to hire tutors, teachers, paraprofessional, instructional coaches, math coaches, behavioral specialists, SPED teachers, counselors and more based off of each schools’ needs.

For the ESSER III funds, Pam Eakes, supervisor of federal programs explained to the school board that administration was asked what their study body and teachers could use the most to help address learning loss. At least 20% of ESSER III funds had to be designated to address student learning, but Eakes said the school system decided to use over 50% of its funding to directly address learning loss.

At Halifax County Middle School and Halifax County High School, two summer school/summer recovery sessions were held.

A total of 161 middle school students participated in the first session and 96 middle school students participated in the second session, with 57 students participating in both.

A total of 256 high school students participated in two recovery programs.

Long and interim director of secondary education Scott Worner also spoke of the challenges teachers face such as the large amount of data that has to be collected daily, and that is constantly changing, students being in and out of the classroom due to having to quarantine after contracting COVID-19 and the social and emotional impact of COVID-19.

“The weight of the world rests on our teachers, our educators,” said Long. “It will take more than a year to recover…our teachers are doing the best that they can.”

Worner also thanked teachers and said they’re working very hard.

Following their presentation, ED-7 trustee Keith McDowell asked how come ESSER funds were not used to help pay employees when they are out sick due to COVID-19.

He noted that other surrounding counties such as Mecklenburg County Public Schools were using COVID-19 relief funds to supplement sick pay.

After Lineburg explained their policy of making individuals who are unvaccinated use their accumulated and allotted sick days rather than receiving 10 additional days using COVID-19 relief funds, McDowell likened the policy to discrimination.

“Let’s take care of our people, let’s pay them,” said McDowell.

Assistant superintendent Valdivia Hall also explained to the board that they once paid all of their employees using funding from the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. But, after that funding ran out, they reached out to other divisions and the school board’s attorney to see what was the best way to move forward.

Later in the meeting, McDowell offered a motion to pay all employees 10 COVID-19 sick days regardless of vaccination status, which was seconded by ED-4 trustee Jay Camp and unanimously approved.

Also earlier in the meeting, the school board heard from a concerned parent, Natasha Beadles, who believes that all students should have to quarantine if they’re exposed to COVID-19, not just students who are unvaccinated.

She also requested the school system provide more information to parents when they’re contacted about their child being exposed to COVID-19 including resources and where the child contracted COVID-19.

But, Lineburg explained they could not disclose where because sometimes that would help identify who the student is.

Slabach also explained contact tracing saying if a parent is contacted by the school system saying their child has been exposed its because the student was determined to be less than three feet away from a child who has become sick with COVID-19 for more than 15 minutes.

She also explained that a majority of COVID-19 cases within the school system “come from out of school transmission.”

As of Thursday, there were 151 employees and/or students who had contracted COVID-19, which had led to nine employees quarantining at home and 259 students quarantining.

The head nurse also admitted that they have had challenges at one of the smaller schools and had discussed with the Virginia Department of Health about possibly closing that school, but they had advised her that students were safer in schools.

Ashley Hodge is the editor for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at ahodge@gazettevirginian.com

Ashley Hodge is the editor for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at ahodge@gazettevirginian.com