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Schools Weigh Hazard Pay for Frontline Workers as Coronavirus Threat Spreads

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As the novel coronavirus threat spreads, school districts across the country have boosted pay for frontline workers or are considering the move.

Schools in places such as Box Elder, S.D.DallasLoudoun, County, Va.; San Diego; and Washington County, Tenn., are already offering hazard pay for school nutrition workers and other employees whose jobs require them to prepare or distribute meals or hand out Chromebooks to students for distance learning.

The New Haven, Conn., and Lincoln County, N.C., school systems are among the districts currently weighing whether to boost the pay of employees.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention social distancing guidelines are difficult to maintain while distributing food to students and families. Concerned about the safety of their employees and the families they interact with, districts across the country have suspended or adjusted their meal-distribution programs, usually scaling back the number of days they provide food or shifting to bus route deliveries instead of in-person pickup.

An Education Week review of news reports found that school nutrition employees have died in at least four states—Missouri, Nevada, New York, and Texas—but it is unclear if the employees contracted COVID-19 on the job or elsewhere.

In Loudoun County, the school board has doubled the pay of hourly employees, including school nutrition workers, bus drivers, and custodians required to report to work, the Loudoun Times-Mirror reports. The district will pay the employees through May 23, the newspaper says.

In San Diego, California's second-largest district, school board members this month approved time-and-a-half pay for more than 220 employees, including food workers, bus drivers, and custodial staff, who are involved in meal preparation and distribution. The pay boost is retroactive to March 16, the first day of school closure in the 124,000-student district.

School policy and security staff who manage crowds during food distribution and employees who helped sanitize and distribute 40,000 Chromebooks to families are also eligible for the pay increase.

While some districts are boosting employee pay, some are just focused on keeping their school nutrition workers on the job. In Muskegon Heights, Mich., schools Superintendent Rane' Garcia told Education Week that serving meals helps ensure children are fed, but also keeps employees, many of whom are breadwinners for their families, employed.

Related Reading

As Demand for Food Grows Under Coronavirus, Schools Step Up

School Food Service Directors Fear Children Will Go Hungry During Coronavirus Crisis

Shut Down by Coronavirus, Schools Scramble to Feed Students

Photo Credit: Gemini Middle School staff member Nikho Seham prepares meals for students, families, and members of the community to pick up in Niles, Ill., Wednesday, April 1, 2020. Districts 63 and 207 provide meals each week for all children under the age of 18 during school closure from the new coronavirus. (Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press)

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