Eight months ago, lawmakers granted extra days of paid leave to public school employees affected by COVID-19, recognizing how hard their job had become, and how vulnerable they were doing it. They were right to do so.

Virus Outbreak

A bill passed last June was supposed to provide Maine public school employees with paid time off for COVID symptoms, quarantines and related child care needs. L.D. 1874 would make sure that they get it. Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

Things have only gotten worse since then, and schools have taken the full brunt. Teachers and other school employees already strained by the pandemic have only been asked to do more, even as a good portion of the public at large has decided they didn’t want to do anything.

And now, at the height of the pandemic in Maine, they have in many cases lost those extra days off. It doesn’t make any sense – not for the employees, and not for the communities they work in.

A bill now before the Legislature would change that, guaranteeing that school employees all over Maine have access to paid time off if they or someone in their family needs care. It should pass without hesitation.

L.D. 1874, from Rep. Bruce White, D-Waterville, doesn’t really say anything new; it just clarifies the action this same Legislature took in June. Lawmakers’ intent with the bill last session was to grant these extra days off through the pandemic, though one interpretation of the law argues that it expired in October.

Clearly, the pandemic is not over, certainly not for schools. Cases of COVID are so high the state cannot keep up with them, and hasn’t been able to for quite some time.


At the same time, weariness over the virus and the various restrictions it has forced has led a sizable minority to stop taking measures to slow the spread, leaving schools to deal with the consequences.

For the sake of students’ education and mental health, it is important that schools stay open. So every day we ask school employees to go out into the world to do their jobs, whatever the state of the virus.

The public, then, can’t turn around and demand that educators take unpaid time off if they get ill, or if their child does and they have to stay home.

After all we’ve asked of school employees – all we continue to ask of them – it’s not right for them to have to take on more. Do we want teachers to come to school sick during the height of the pandemic? Do we want them to stay home and wonder how they’ll pay their bills? What does any of that accomplish?

The answers may seem obvious. But the bill does have opposition.

The Maine School Management Association, which represents school boards and superintendents, says it is unnecessary, pointing to a handful of school districts that have already adopted COVID-related leave policies.

But testimony at the Legislature this week from teachers who are fighting to keep the extra days shows that’s not enough.

There was a reason the Legislature passed the bill last year. Those reasons haven’t changed.

No one short of health care workers has been asked to face the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic more than those at public schools. Why would anyone even think of making it worse?

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.