(The Center Square) – School administrators across the state say a measure giving staff the ability to take administrative days rather than sick days for COVID-related issues will burden their ability to best educate children.
It’s still unclear how the governor will act on House Bill 2778. The bill reclassifies sick days as administrative days if it’s related to COVID-19. It passed last month with veto-proof majorities.
During an earlier debate, it was noted the Pritzker administration opposed the bill. Pritzker’s office and the Illinois State Board of Education did not return messages seeking comment.
The bill has broad support by a coalition of labor groups including the Illinois Education Association, which represents about 135,000 teachers and other educators.
“Our educators are showing that they care about the safety of the students and colleagues by [either vaccinating or testing], so why should they use their sick leave?” IEA’s Unique Morris said during a committee hearing on the bill. “That’s not fair.”
The measure also covers contractual school employees and bus drivers and would have remote days covered by administrative leave.
Peg Agnos, Legislative Director with South Cooperative Organization for Public Education, told a committee the measure will compound staffing shortages.
“We fear that one of the unintended consequences would be more closures and a reverting back to remote learning,” Agnos said.
Alison Maley with the Illinois Principals Association said the unfunded mandate will further burden principals across the state by having them fill the classroom void if backup staff aren’t available.
“Without a limit on administrative leave days or a sunset for this provision to expire, we are really concerned about how this will affect staffing and providing a quality education to our students,” Maley said.
If the measure becomes law, it will come with a taxpayer cost. And, it doesn’t incentivize staff to get back into the classroom, Maley said.
“Test-to-stay is great but the incentive is to be home and be paid, I think it disincentivizes individuals from participating in test-to-stay,” Maley said.
The measure would give such leave to unvaccinated people, something Josh Bullock with the chair of the Illinois Council of Community College Presidents said runs counter to encouraging people to get vaccinated. He also had concerns about the measure including contractual staff.
“We employ many part-time employees who are sporadic or are on call or as needed employees and would love to see some clarification on how this bill would address those part-time employees,” Bullock said.
House Bill 2778 has yet to be sent to the governor’s desk.