After some confusion earlier in the pandemic, Mackay school board members and Superintendent Susan Buescher clarified how federally expanded sick leave for teachers and staff will work going forward at a special board meeting held Sept. 8.

“There’s always some initial confusion when trying to get used to a new thing,” Buescher said in an interview with the Messenger. After multiple students tested positive at the start of the school year, Buescher said some staff chose to self-quarantine, thinking they could still take advantage of the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act without documentation.

Buescher said that act provides 80 hours of additional sick leave for employees, but they must provide a federal, state or local government-issued quarantine order or doctor’s note. That is what was clarified at the meeting, Buescher said. She’s since updated the district’s COVID-19 plan to include that clarification.

Buescher said she applied for expanded sick leave because, like other school administrators, she has the added responsibility of keeping children safe and healthy during a pandemic. If a staff member isn’t feeling well and has to choose between going to work or staying home, Buescher said district staff want to provide that employee with every encouragement to stay home.

“It encourages people who need to quarantine, whether they’re sick or not, to do so,” Buescher said. “And their employers get reimbursed.”

The act also gives two-thirds pay to employees who need to stay home and care for a family member living under a quarantine order or care for a child because their daycare closed due to the coronavirus, Buescher said.

Along with clarifying the requirements to apply for the federal sick leave, Buescher said school board members removed two days of remote learning training for staff in September and October.

“We kind of already had a trial by fire of that,” Buescher said, referring to how Custer County’s designation as a moderate risk for COVID-19 transmission prompted the closure of Mackay schools about a week after school started last month. The district is now following a hybrid schedule outlined in its reopening plan.