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Fort Worth teacher denied paid leave to care for daughter battling brain tumor

Allies of a 13-year-old girl who has been battling a rare brain tumor are rallying behind her and her mother — a Fort Worth school district teacher whose request for support from an employee sick leave bank was recently denied.

Jill Kirby posted on social media: "Thank you FWISD for not accepting my application for the Emergency Sick Leave Bank. I'm feeling very frustrated! I've worked with the district for 23 years and they can't even give me 10 days off to care for my sick child! Thanks! (Sarcasm)."

Kirby, an elementary teacher at Lily B. Clayton Elementary, wrote the post on Facebook on April 20. It received 113 reactions and spurred allies to find a solution, including sharing the predicament with the media.

"She has worked for the district for 23 years and that's how they treat her — show some compassion," said Jennifer Hart, a family friend who is among those reaching out to the media and school district to push for some help for the Kirbys.

Asked about Kirby's case, the district responded in a statement: "The District has received calls regarding the situation. Unfortunately, we are not able to respond regarding an employee's confidential information. However, we can assure you that all processes have been or will be followed according to the District's policies and all applicable laws."

Kirby used all of her accrued sick days as her daughter, Grace, fought a brain tumor. Kirby's husband, Bruce, also teaches in the school district. They have been caring for their daughter's health even as they work and pay medical bills. She was hoping to get support from the sick leave bank, but was denied.

"I had six days left, and I used them when she had biopsy surgery. I am out of days and was hoping to use the sick bank for the surgery and recovery of the actual brain surgery," Kirby told the Star-Telegram.

Sick leave bank

Kirby's husband didn't apply to the bank after Jill Kirby was denied.

"My husband works for FWISD too. He’s out of days, and they will not allow two parents taking the sick leave bank for the sick child so he didn’t even apply," she said.

The sick leave bank is a program that pools sick leave days contributed by those who are separating from the district. They can only be used by full-time employees for "a qualifying incapacitating personal illness, accident or qualifying family member's terminal illness," according to a brochure written by the school district.

"The purpose of the Sick Leave Program is to alleviate hardship caused to an eligible employee if a personal catastrophic illness or injury forces the employee to exhaust all earned leave (sick, personal and vacation days)," the brochure states.

It can also be applied for a family member with a terminal illness — a spouse or dependent child under 18, according to the brochure.

"This benefit is limited to one person in a family and only when there is no other family member at home to care for the terminally ill person," the brochure states.

Jill Kirby said she was denied leave through the bank because a district committee didn't determine Grace is terminally ill.

Pray for Grace

The family posted on social media that Grace was discharged from the hospital on Tuesday. She has been recuperating at home in Aledo.

Grace's battle against the tumor began in March when a test for an unrelated elbow pain led to the discovery of a mass in her brain, according to accounts on social media and friends. Her tumor is called a central neurocytoma, and her family says she's only the 16th case in the world.

School communities in Fort Worth and Aledo followed Grace's struggle via a Facebook page called Pray for Grace. That Facebook page, maintained by Bruce Kirby, includes calls for prayers and health updates.

Hart said friends have supported the Kirby family by selling T-shirts and bracelets aimed at helping pay medical bills. A small shack that sits in the center of Aledo, used to announce prom proposals and birthday wishes, has twice been painted to wish Grace well, Hart said.

Friends of the Kirby family are collecting donations for medical expenses on a GoFundMe account.

On Wednesday, Jill Kirby said her daughter is doing well and is starting school part time.

Grace's surgery was also reported in the Weatherford Democrat.

Recent posts show Grace recuperating in a regular room after leaving ICU at Cook Children's Medical Center. Another post states: "What a roller coaster month for Grace, Bruce and Jill! We are so grateful for God‘s continued healing of Grace! Please continue to pray for her to continue getting stronger every day and to be able to go home!"