OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – School districts are now taking it upon themselves to create their own COVID protocol to protect teachers this year, especially now that there is no federal COVID leave for the school year.
Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers President, Tori Shoecraft says many are now finding ways to help teachers using funding from the CARES Act Congress passed last year.
“They are using the federal funds to offer stipends for recruitment, for retention and also just as a type of hazard pay since they have the money,” Shoecraft said. “If the legislature was in a position to help with that, we would be fully supportive.”
Democratic Representative Forrest Bennett says topics including teacher hazard pay and workers compensation were explored during last year’s legislative session, but nothing was ever passed.
He hopes lawmakers can come to an agreement on the issues this year.
“I know that most school districts are doing everything they can to be creative as possible to protect,” Bennett says. “But they can only do so much without the help of the state, and not only are we not helping but it seems that many of us are standing in the way.”
Republican Representative Chris Kannady argues that if you open up the conversation for hazard pay for teachers, you have to also address others who work in public service like grocery store and restaurant workers.
“There are a whole lot more people who are more exposed to a lot more opportunities of catching covid than teachers,” Kannady said. “Teachers spend more time a day with my kid than I do… my family appreciates them immensely. But we have to figure out where is the need and how is it best logistically handled without bankrupting the system.”
There are also challenges with workers compensation when proving where you contracted the virus.
“I’ve asked within the workers comp commission dealing with COVID and it being presumed that they acquired COVID while on the job, but these are people that are in the hospitals and are around COVID every single day,” Kannady said. “It’s a lot easier to show that it is presumed that they acquired COVID while they were on the job versus someone who just doesn’t have that type of exposure.”
Shoecraft echoed the same point, citing it as a possible reason it didn’t get addressed in the state legislature last year.
“Workers comp is something that can probably be harder to prove when it comes to COVID-19 and how easily it can be passed and I assume that could be one of the reasons,” Shoecraft said.
Kannady says it’s at least possible that it gets addressed this coming session.
“I’m concerned of teachers, firefighters, police, whoever, not having their expenses covered because there’s a fight between workers comp insurance and private insurance,” Kannady said. “So if that issue is still prevalent and we need to address it then I wanna address it.”
State legislative session starts February 2022.