Bargaining teams wrap up COVID-19 talks with agreements on leave, masks

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Bargaining teams for Brevard Public Schools and the Brevard Federation of Teachers union wrapped up negotiations Friday on additional COVID-19 protections as teachers prepare to return amid the pandemic.

Following a productive session Tuesday, school district and teachers’ union leaders on Friday settled remaining terms on leaves of absence, extended sick time and the provision of masks, among others:

  • The district may grant unpaid leaves of absence for up to one year, subject to the discretion of school principals, and teachers on leave can seek outside employment. The agreement will last only through the 2020-21 school year.
  • Teachers will be provided up to five additional days of paid leave for illness related to COVID-19, on top of emergency expanded leave guaranteed by the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
  • Teachers can use up to 40 hours of accrued compensatory time in place of sick leave for illness related to COVID-19, and may use up to two days of compensatory time for any illness without notice.
  • The district will provide KN95 masks to all high-risk teachers, and to those in environments where students are exempted from wearing masks and social distancing is not possible. In addition, the district will provide all teachers with one disposable mask per day for personal use.
  • Teachers may work offsite after student dismissal when they have no other obligations that require them to be on campus. The provision does not apply to early-release days.

More: Brevard school board approves mask mandate for most students, staff

District negotiators had previously rejected the union’s proposal to grant all requests for unpaid leaves of absence, a move which left some teachers feeling like they were being forced to choose between their jobs and their health.

Union President Anthony Colucci called the agreement a compromise — beyond allowing those on leave to seek other employment, the negotiated language was “not that different” than the usual annual leave provision, he said — but felt it could backfire if more teachers choose to resign over going back to the classroom.

“We’ve been in the midst of a teacher shortage for several years now, and by not granting a leave of absence, we feel that could be exacerbated,” he said. “We don’t necessarily think that’s the best move for the district to retain employees after this crisis is over.”

Negotiators also agreed that teachers who contract coronavirus-related illnesses may file for worker’s compensation. The state union is currently seeking an exemption to a rule requiring evidence they contracted the virus in the workplace, Colucci said.

“I was determined that, when these negotiations were over, I would be able to look into the eyes of our teachers and say we did the absolutely very best we could to make sure we had the protections in place for you,” Colucci said.

“I think we reached that point.”

More: Teacher contracts: Bargaining teams make ‘tremendous’ progress on COVID-19 provisions

The union will seek ratification on the memorandum within the next two weeks. It was seeking a waiver from the state Public Employees Relation Commission to hold the vote electronically, Colucci said.

With teachers set to report to work in just over a week, negotiators must now reach agreements on more typical annual contract items like salary and health insurance.

No date had been set to return to the table Friday afternoon. Colucci said the union was in the process of crafting its opening proposal and hoped to begin the talks “as soon as possible.”

Eric Rogers is the education watchdog reporter for FLORIDA TODAY. Please consider subscribing to support important local news on education, business, crime and other topics you care about.

Contact Rogers at 321-242-3717 or esrogers@floridatoday.com. Follow him on Twitter @EricRogersFT.

Read or Share this story: https://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/education/2020/07/31/bargaining-teams-wrap-up-covid-19-talks-agreements-leave-masks/5554250002/

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