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EPISD changes its leave of absence policies after deadly bus crash

EPISD

The El Paso Independent School District is changing its policies for employees who need to take a leave of absence after a catastrophic event.

The change comes less than a month after a bus crash claimed the life of coach Archie Duran when the team was travelling back from a track meet.

“We had five days of state leave for sick leave, and the district offers three to six days for personal leave. We didn't feel like that was enough for the employees who were affected,” said Dori Fenenbock, the president of the district’s board of trustees. “So we decided to make a policy change that allows an additional 10 days of leave in order to emotionally recuperate.”

Fenenbock said the tragedy highlighted the need for a policy change because the district has never experienced anything like this in the past, but didn’t define what would qualify as a catastrophe.

“There's no real definition. We don't try to define it. I think it's one of those things where you'll know it when it happens,” Fenenbock said.

The district said it would implement this plan when a school-related tragedy occurs.

“A district catastrophic event is any event that happens during the performance of your duties as an employee of the district,” EPISD spokesman Gustavo Reveles said.

Fenenbock said it’s important for employees affected by tragedy to take the time they need to heal.

“The physical injuries will heal; those emotional injuries will take a little longer,” she said. “We're a family, we want to make sure we’re taking care of everyone.”

Duran’s wife is also an employee of the district. She works as a math teacher at Jefferson High School.

Alex Duran, Archie’s brother, told KFOX14 that EPISD offered his sister-in-law the full 10 days of paid leave even before the policy change is implemented.

“I truly believe that it's up to the individual on how fast they can cope and how fast they can heal, but I feel like 10 days is very generous,” Alex Duran said. “That really helps with her in regards to her coping with what's happening.”

He said he’s glad a positive change came from the family’s tragedy and he hopes other school districts in the area will also reflect on the leave time they offer employees.

“It's a good example, and I think it is something that other districts can follow them and have them look at the policies to see what changes they need to make,” Alex Duran said.

But he said he’d also like to see EPISD take a closer look at some of its other policies.

“Traveling by night, if they can look into that policy and maybe take some feedback from staff and some coaches and from parents and take a look at the policy... I think that would really help with parents at ease, as well as coaches’ families,” Alex Duran said.

KFOX14 reached out to the other school districts in the area to find out what their policies are when it comes to catastrophic events.

A Ysleta ISD spokesperson said their employees are offered a range of options, from bereavement to FMLA to personal sick leave. A district spokesperson said YISD has not discussed changes to its policies in the wake of the EPISD bus crash.

For Gadsden ISD employees, a spokesperson said they offer leaves of absence and will offer special consideration to extend it in the event of a catastrophic event. The spokesperson didn’t say anything about revisiting their policies, but offered their condolences to Coach Duran’s family and the students affected by the tragedy.

According to Canutillo ISD’s policy manual, employees have paid time off from the state and the district. The district’s local leave is used first, and then the state’s sick leave and personal leave is used. After that, the employee can take time from the catastrophic sick leave bank if they have any saved up. For local leave, employees earn additional days off per school year depending on the number of days they work each calendar year. The district says it does not put a limit on the amount of local leave an employee can accumulate.

Tornillo ISD also offers a sick leave bank that employees can supply by contributing time. The leave each employee contributes is only for them to use. It is only to be accessed once all of the paid leave has been exhausted. Employees are also offered FLMA. TISD said it is not rethinking its policies at this time.

Fabens and Socorro ISD’s did not respond to KFOX14’s requests for information on their policies when it comes to catastrophic events.

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