LEGISLATIVE PRIORITY 4
PUBLIC HEALTH TRANSPARENCY
2021 PAGE Legislative Priority 4:
Public Health Transparency
PAGE is Georgia’s largest professional organization for educators, representing more than 95,000 educators throughout the state. Our members drafted and approved their 2021 Legislative Priorities, which will guide PAGE’s advocacy during the legislative session. This page supplements the 2021 PAGE Legislative Priorities Overview.
Institute transparency for student and educator health:
Ensure Georgia Department of Public Health transparency of COVID-19 reporting in schools.
PAGE legal, legislative and membership services have been in contact with educators serving in multiple Georgia school districts who have expressed strong concern regarding accurate, timely, and transparent reporting of COVID-19 cases in their schools. Georgia does not have this crucial public health data available in a centralized location, and there is inconsistent reporting on a school-by-school and district-by-district basis.
The federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) expired on Dec. 31, 2020. Without additional federal or state relief in 2021, educators who have contracted the virus in a school setting or must quarantine due to exposure at school are forced to use personal sick leave days. In 2020, PAGE submitted a request to the State Board of Education to enable educators who exhausted 10 allocated days of FFCRA leave to take additional leave with pay, if quarantine or absence from on-site work was necessitated due to COVID-19 exposure at school. PAGE also recommended that when educators were exposed to the virus but were asymptomatic and able to work remotely, school districts allow these employees to work remotely without penalty to FFCRA or accrued sick leave.
As distribution of vaccines begins to ramp up, Georgia has placed educators in phase 1b to receive the vaccine. Vaccine rollout has been uneven, and articulated plans are needed to ensure all Georgia educators and staff have access to the vaccine as quickly as possible.
PAGE requests that the Georgia Department of Public Health coordinate additional needed transparency regarding COVID-19 cases in school settings. As the school districts which already offer in-person student instruction struggle to continue providing it and several remaining school districts plan their first face-to-face instruction days since March, timely and transparent public health data is needed more than ever. Easy-to-access and clear data will assist these schools in preparing to bring students, teachers, and school staff back to the classroom.
State policymakers should consider PAGE’s recommendations for sick leave for educators exposed to the COVID-19 virus, especially as FFCRA benefits have expired, particularly for educators with high-risk health conditions. Some school districts have already incorporated expanded employee leave provisions into their pandemic response plans, but this important employee protection should be available to all Georgia educators in all school districts.
State leaders should prioritize educators for vaccine distribution, allowing school districts to provide in-person instruction to a greater number of students and to help ease concerns of many educators who are uncomfortable returning to the classroom.