Summer School Expansion

English and history teacher Alex Scheibel helps students with their work during summer school on Friday, July 9, 2021, at Bozeman High. Bozeman high schools expanded their summer school program this year for students hard-hit by the pandemic.

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The Bozeman School Board approved measures to create paid COVID-19 leave for employees and an additional stipend for teachers during its Monday meeting.

The actions are in response to impacts from increasing COVID-19 cases in the schools, particularly the elementary schools, and in recognition of the additional work teachers are doing to address learning gaps from the first year-and-a-half of the pandemic.

“Frankly, we’re seeing more COVID cases this fall,” said Pat Strauss, director of human resources, during Monday’s discussion on approving COVID-19 paid sick leave.

A majority of those are happening in the elementary schools and are affecting teachers, custodians and paraprofessionals who have students in that age group, Strauss said.

Strauss said the district pulled together a COVID Leave Committee, which met twice, to discuss the issue and recommend solutions. It was made up of district and Bozeman Education Association leadership.

The district will match up to 10 days paid COVID-19 sick leave that employees can use along with their own accumulated sick leave, according to the district’s policy recommendation. The COVID-19 leave will be limited to situations where the employee is unable to work or work remotely.

Some of those situations include following a quarantine or isolation recommendation, being advised to self-quarantine by a health care provider, experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and waiting for a diagnosis, caring for an individual who is in quarantine or isolation or caring for a child whose school or classroom is closed due to COVID-19.

The leave policy also allows employees to work remotely when possible without using leave time.

Trustee Douglas Fischer, who was involved in the district’s COVID Leave Committee, thanked everyone for coming to a solution.

“This is very much a compromise,” he said.

The school board also approved $1,000 stipends for full-time teachers for both this school year and next school year. The payments will be made on Dec. 17, 2021 and with the September 2022 payroll.

“Like many school districts across the nation, our student achievement data affirms that COVID-19 has negatively impacted student learning cross all grade levels and, in some cases, increased the achievement gap,” the district’s board recommendation stated.

Mike Waterman, the district’s director of business services, said per the agreement with the Bozeman Education Association, teachers work hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. But teachers are often working beyond those hours to address the learning loss of their students.

The stipend is an effort to compensate teachers for that additional work.

“The district recognizes that our certified staff will be investing significant time and energy outside of the typical contract day to effectively plan for and address the COVID-19 related learning loss,” the recommendation stated.

Waterman said teachers who work half-time would be eligible for two $500 payments over the next two years.

The district estimated 526 employees would be eligible for the learning loss stipend and over the two years would total $1.25 million, which would be funded out of the district’s third round of federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds.

Trustee Lei-Anna Bertelsen said she wanted to acknowledge it was a small thing the district could do to support its teachers.

“I think our teachers, we’ve just asked them to do so much and they’ve gone above and beyond and this is the least we can do,” Bertelsen said.

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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