NYC Schools Deny COVID Sick Pay to Substitute Teachers

Shane Lorenzen contracted COVID-19 a few days before Christmas in 2022. 

As a substitute teacher in New York City, he was aware that the state had implemented a paid COVID leave policy for public employees, which was a key protection for essential workers during the pandemic. However, when he inquired about it with his school payroll secretary, he was informed that as a substitute teacher, he did not qualify for the benefit.

Like many other substitutes, Lorenzen played a crucial role in supporting the city’s education system during the pandemic. He volunteered in March 2020 to work at education centers for the children of healthcare professionals, transit workers, and other frontline employees when regular schools were closed. During the omicron wave in January 2022, he was in the classroom while thousands of teachers were on sick leave.

When Lorenzen tested positive for COVID-19 himself, being denied paid leave felt like a significant blow. He tried to insist on his eligibility but was asked not to return to his school.

Despite the state mandate that entitled substitutes to paid COVID leave, many assumed they did not qualify or never requested the benefit. In New York City, even those who did ask were often denied.

Internal emails obtained by New York Focus through a Freedom of Information Law (foil) request revealed that the city Department of Education instructed schools to exclude almost all substitute teachers and substitute paraprofessionals from the benefit.

In an email, the doe advised schools that substitute teachers would generally not be eligible for paid leave if they needed to quarantine and would not be paid for any time not worked.

Some former substitute teachers shared that they were never informed about the possibility of COVID leave, such as one anonymous individual in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

The New York City Department of Education initially stated that per diem workers, who make up the majority of the substitute workforce, did not qualify for sick leave or other benefits normally provided to full-time staff. However, in a contradictory statement, they later indicated that subs could receive paid COVID leave if they provided a

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