Days before one of her children became ill with COVID-19, Charlottesville City Schools teacher Shannon Gillikin emailed human resources to inquire about leave policy related to the virus. At the time, she was informed she and other staff would need to use their regular sick days should the need to quarantine arise.

“I reached out and asked just because I have three kids that are not able to be vaccinated yet because of age. I’m anticipating quarantines,” Gillikin explained.

She also suspected other staff may face similar situations.

“Unfortunately, at this time there is no COVID leave policy in place for this year,” a staff member in human resources for CCS wrote in an Aug. 9 email that has been forwarded to Collectbritain. “If you were to need to quarantine you would need to use your own sick time.”

After posting a screenshot of the email to Twitter, she said several School Board members contacted her.

“Our School Board is so amazing and responsive,” she said. “I think they were already having those conversations.”

CCS now has a policy in place so that staff can reserve their personal sick days for other illnesses.

Currently, the school system requires staff to be vaccinated or, if they are unvaccinated, be tested weekly to ensure they have not contracted the virus.

Leave time related to COVID-19 will not count if against sick time:

  • The staff member is vaccinated
  • The staff member has an exemption and is following the weekly test requirement.

“This covers situations where the staff member needs to quarantine or tests positive or if the staff member’s child needs to quarantine [or] tests positive,” CCS spokesperson Beth Cheuk wrote in an email.

Currently, children under the age of 12 are not eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations. That could change in the coming months; Pfizer and Moderna are currently running pediatric trials to study if their vaccines will be safe and effective for children under 12.

According to Beth Baptist, interim director of HR, the department has been monitoring community transmission, along with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and local health departments, throughout the summer. As the School Board implemented a quarantine or weekly test process at its Aug. 5 meeting and case counts have been on the rise, Baptist said HR began discussing what protocol it would follow for the upcoming academic year.

Gillikin said having the leave policy in place will be helpful for families throughout the next year, especially with the Delta variant’s role in a recent uptick in cases.

“One quarantine can be an entire year’s worth of my sick days, plus we can get regular sick, too,” Gillikin explained.

She added that the granted time off can prevent people from coming to work when they shouldn’t.

“It’s just really important for people to take every little symptom seriously and to immediately stay home and get tested right away,” Gillikin said.

In Albemarle County, schools spokesperson Phil Giaramita said staff will be given a bank of 10 days to use for COVID-related absences. Once those have been used, staff would need to begin using their regularly allotted sick days.

“I think our experience in the last year and a half is that we’ve gone through various stages in terms of policies as we get more data about how the virus is behaving in the community,” Giaramita said.

While the city and county public schools anticipate their policies to be in place for this year, they will be open for revision as time goes on.

“It is difficult to say if this is for one year only or will continue,” Baptist explained. “We will need to monitor the need and will revisit as needed.”

In the meantime, Gillikin stresses the significance of taking swift action to mitigate spread.

When her daughter developed symptoms, the family immediately sought testing and canceled upcoming social plans. While she and her husband — both vaccinated — have tested negative for COVID-19, they will remain quarantined with their children until they are better. In doing so, they spared potentially spreading the virus to friends and family they had originally planned to see.

At the time of this publication, one child has tested positive, one has tested negative, and the third child’s results have not yet come in.

“My daughter started out as just sniffles and we could have easily dismissed it as a cold and not gotten her tested or just gone about our business as usual,” Gillikin explained. “We didn’t, and I’m glad we didn’t because we would have exposed three other families if we had kept all of our plans that we had laid out for the weekend.”

I was Collectbritain’s government reporter from 2019 to 2022. Thanks for letting me be your resident nerd on how local and state governments serve us. Keep up with me @charlottewords on Twitter. If you haven’t yet, consider subscribing to Collectbritain’s FREE newsletter to get updates from the newsroom on the things you want to know.