With a 2-2 vote Tuesday, Nov. 19, the Alcoa Board of Education rejected a move to require staff to provide a doctor’s note after taking three consecutive sick days.
Director Brian Bell told school board members during a work session Monday, Nov. 18, that Alcoa City Schools had been asking for the notes for a couple of years, and he thought it already was the policy until a staff member challenged him this school year.
“We’ve had some teachers take five consecutive sick days, and on Facebook you see their pictures from Mexico,” Bell told the board.
The existing policy says the district may require a form from a physician in support of any claim for sick leave pay, but the director said the district isn’t interested in requiring it for one or two days absent.
At Tuesday’s meeting Bell said, “We want to encourage our folks to take sick leave. We’ve never not encouraged them. If you’re sick, go home.” But, he said, “there’s also some accountability with that.”
Alcoa school employees earn one day of sick leave for every month they work, and they may take off not only if they are sick but also to care for immediate family members, grandparents, grandchildren or even in-laws. “It’s pretty liberal,” Bell said.
Even with the district requiring a note after three days, he said, some employees would take two consecutive sick days, a personal day and then two sick days, but he said that was “few and far between.”
Board member Brandee Bledsoe said during the work session that she had mixed feelings about the proposal. Before Tuesday’s vote she said, “I’ve thought about this a whole, whole lot.”
She noted that based on Bell’s comments the previous day, the policy is not being abused by the majority of the staff.
“We should just give our staff some professional courtesy in this situation and trust them to use their sick time appropriately,” she said.
“I don’t think we need a blanket policy when it’s not being abused in the first place,” she said, to which Bell agreed, “It’s not.”
She said administrators can address it on an individual basis if an employee may be abusing the policy.
During he work session board member Clayton Bledsoe said, “It’s their days; they earn them.”
In response Bell had pointed out that when teachers are out school, the district has the expense of hiring substitute teachers.
Board Chair Julie Rochelle and board member Charles Cameron voted in favor of requiring a note after three days, and both Bledsoes voted against it. Board member Steve Marsh was absent from the meeting.
Alcoa school employees receive two personal days a year. Teachers also may join a “sick leave bank,” contributing three days and applying to a committee for extra time off when they are ill, although that time cannot be used to care for family members.
About a quarter of teachers participate in that program, Bell said, and no one has applied for days from it in about three years.
In other policy action Tuesday, the board approved revisions to its student wellness policy to comply with regulations from the Tennessee State Board of Education, Coordinated School Health Standards, and the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention’s School Health Index.
One change specifies that every school will have a Healthy School Team including teachers, students, parents and administrators to oversee school health efforts.
The new policy language also says all food in school vending machines, fundraising and concessions must met federal guidelines for healthy school snacks, but Bell said in an interview after the meeting the food already is meeting those guidelines.
The revised policy also adds a line that physical activity will not be used as a form of discipline or punishment.