Education

This school district is under fire for its sick leave bank. Some consider it generous

Grace Kirby, 13, is recovering from brain surgery.
Grace Kirby, 13, is recovering from brain surgery.

A Fort Worth teacher's recent unsuccessful attempt to tap into her school district's sick leave bank put the issue of paid family leave on the community radar.

Last month, 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)."



The social media post was a rallying cry to allies, friends and strangers who wanted to help. Kirby's situation typified family fears about dealing with family medical emergencies while trying to continue earning a paycheck. It also prompted some to ask what is a sick leave bank and how does it differ from the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Clint Bond, spokesman for the Fort Worth school district, said the superintendent's office received a few complaints about it last week.

Kirby used all of her accrued sick days as her 13-year-old daughter, Grace, fought a brain tumor this spring. 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. Kirby was hoping to get support from the sick leave bank but was denied because her daughter wasn't terminally ill.

"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.

This week, Grace was recuperating and starting classes part time at Aledo Middle School.

What is a sick leave bank?

A sick leave bank is a pool of local sick leave days contributed by employees to be used by other employees when they have used all their sick, personal and vacation days. They are not uncommon among North Texas school districts.

A sick leave bank is different from the Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave so employees can care for ill family members.

“A lot of them have it, but there are some that don’t,” said Steve Poole, executive director of the United Educators Association of Texas, which represents more than 24,000 public school employees in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Poole said the decision to establish sick leave banks is up to local school districts. Cases are typically decided by an executive committee that includes various types of district employees. In Fort Worth, there is an eight-member committee that includes teachers.

“There are IRS rules that govern donation of sick leave to other employees,” Poole said, adding that typically the sick leave bank is set up for an employee dealing with a catastrophic illness.

Some districts don't cover immediate family

Poole said not all districts allow employees to use the sick leave bank for family members. A survey of area sick-leave bank guidelines show different guidelines. For example, Birdville schools stipulate that banked days can't be used for family illness. However, Crowley covers leave if the employee or a member of the employee’s immediate family experiences a catastrophic illness or injury.

“Fort Worth ISD extends it to immediate family members who have terminal illness,” Poole said. “There are some districts that don't cover anything for immediate family.”

This report contains material from the Star-Telegram archives.

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