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Education

Kansas City Parents, Here’s What You Need To Know If You're Taking Time Off To Help Your Kid With Online School

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Photo Illustration-Carlos Moreno
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KCUR 89.3
After months of debate about whether it's safe to reopen schools, some Kansas City area students are headed back to school in person this week. Others will start the school year virtually, presenting a challenge for many working parents.

Some parents might be able to get at least part of their paycheck if their kids' classes via Zoom are preventing them from working.

Parents of children whose schools aren’t reopening because of the coronavirus are trying to manage schoolwork while continuing to work themselves.

Most districts are expecting more from students than they did in the spring. They’re taking attendance – Kansas requires 360 minutes of learning per day – and giving out grades. More will be expected of students, who in turn will need more help from Mom and Dad.

Back in March, Congress granted parents additional leave to care for their kids when schools and child care providers are closed. The Families First Coronavirus Relief Act, or FFCRA, doesn’t cover everyone, but for those who are eligible, it’s up to 12 weeks at two-thirds pay.

Here’s what you need to know about taking time off if your kid’s school is opening virtually.

Am I eligible for FFCRA leave?

The FFCRA covers certain public employers and private employers with fewer than 500 employees. If you work at a really small business – one with fewer than 50 employees – that asks for an exemption, you may not be eligible for FFCRA leave.

You only have to work for your employer for 30 days to qualify for FFCRA leave. That’s significant because the Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, requires you to work for a covered employer for at least a year before taking time off.

Part-time employees can take FFCRA leave, but their rate of pay would be pro-rated.

Finally, essential workers like doctors and nurses can’t take FFCRA leave when their kids’ schools are closed.

Will be I paid while out on FFCRA leave?

Employees taking leave to care for children will get two-thirds of their regular pay, up to $200 a day, capped at $12,000.

Again, that’s different from FMLA, which is unpaid leave.

How much FFCRA leave am I eligible for?

Full-time employees can take up to 40 hours of FFCRA leave. The first two weeks (up to 80 hours) are paid sick leave. The next ten weeks are paid expanded family and medical leave. Employers are reimbursed for the expense with federal tax credits.

However, if you’ve already taken 12 weeks of FMLA this year, you aren’t entitled to additional leave to take care of your children while they’re out of school. You get 12 weeks total. Let’s say you had a baby back in January, before the pandemic. If you exhausted your FMLA then, you can’t take any more in 2020, even if your older child’s school shuts down.

But if you only took off six weeks back in January, you still have six weeks of emergency leave to tap into if you need it.

My child’s school is open, but I’m not comfortable sending them. I am eligible for FFCRA leave?

No. If you’ve selected online learning for your child even though their school is open, you can’t take FFCRA leave. You must have selected in-person learning for your child this year.

My child is supposed to go to school every other day. Can I take my FFCRA leave intermittently?

Yes. Last week, the Department of Labor said that parents of children scheduled to attend school every other day can take FFCRA on the remote learning days only.

But if you need flexibility for another reason, that’s between you and your employer, said Megan Norris, a California-based attorney who wrote a book on FMLA.

“The employee and the employer have to agree if they’re going to ... take just a few days a week or just a few weeks and take some more later,” Norris said during an Employment Law Alliance webinar last week.

Norris noted that the intermittent leave part of the FFCRA is being challenged in court, so it’s possible employees could end up with more flexibility to take leave as they need it.

Can both parents take leave under the FFCRA?

Yes, but not simultaneously, as one of the stipulations is that no one else is available to care for your child. But you could take your 12 weeks now, and if your child’s school is still closed in late November, your co-parent could take FFCRA leave then.

Dads in particular should consider taking FFCRA leave, as women tend to shoulder more caregiving responsibilities during pandemics.

“About 60% of dads say that they are doing a lot of the homeschools and taking that over, or taking charge of that, and about 3% of moms agree with the statistic,” said Kirstin Muller, another employment law expert who participated in the ELA webinar. She was citing a New York Times poll from May.

“In terms of flexibility for teleworking, you have to look at how the burdens are falling in the particular households of your employees,” Muller said. “A lack of flexibility in this regard when monitoring performance and productivity might impact your diversity and inclusion initiatives.”

Can I take FFCRA leave to take care of my grandchild?

Only if you have day-to-day caregiving and financial responsibilities for your grandchild. If your grandchild lives with their parents but you help out sometimes with child care, probably not.

You can take FFCRA leave to take care of foster children or stepchildren, though.

Will I be eligible for additional FFCRA leave in 2021?

Only if Congress extends the program, which Norris doubts will happen.

“I think that it is unlikely that it will be extended because the idea of this leave was that people would eventually be able to go back to school: We wouldn’t have so many schools closed, and we wouldn’t have so many shutdowns,” she said.

Of course, that could change depending on pandemic conditions and whether the election changes the balance of power in Congress.

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