DeSoto ISD Board Approves Paid Mental Health Leave for Employees

DEC local policy

DeSoto ISD Allows Staff Mental Health Days

DeSoto, TX– Since the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic, DeSoto ISD has shared its commitment to the wellbeing of its students and staff. As the district shifts to staff retention and recruitment for the upcoming year, the focus on wellness continues with the Board’s recent approval of mental health days amongst its new list of paid leave days for staff.

DEC (Local) is the policy that houses the district’s regulations on employee leave and now states that staff will receive an additional three (3) local leave days with two of the three days classified as mental health days and available once each semester. However, the employee can utilize the three days at their discretion on a “no questions asked” basis, if requested according to leave procedures and adhere to the stated blackout dates.

An Emphasis On Employee Wellness

“We understand that sometimes employees just need to ‘check out’ and we want to be sensitive to that,” said Chief of Human Resources Mia Stroy. “In requesting these days, as an HR Department, we will also offer wraparound services through our Employee Assistance Program just to provide balance.”

The additional leave days began with a review of the district’s DEC Local policy initiated by DeSoto ISD Trustee Dr. Tiffany Clark, who has a background in education and counseling. Dr. Clark’s idea was to create an avenue to emphasize the importance of employee self-care and wellness.

“The mental health policy is important because right now our staff has been inundated with a lot of rapid changes both personal and professional,” Trustee Clark said in an initial discussion on the policy update. “I believe that DeSoto ISD can change the narrative and give staff a day where they can focus completely on their mental health, without having to use a regular work leave day when they simply need to breathe.”

Stress Has Increased Due To Pandemic

According to recent reports, mental health concerns are rising in the nation due to the ongoing pandemic and categorized as the next outbreak. The Kaiser Family Foundation poll which showed that over 50% of Americans have reported that worry or stress related to the outbreak has led to at least one negative mental health effect since the crisis began – including trouble eating or sleeping, frequent headaches, stomach aches, irritability and the worsening of chronic health problems. More than 60 percent of frontline health care workers and their families reported worsened mental health along with 65% of those who had lost income. (ref.)

DeSoto ISD WINGS Principal Bridget Nevels, who developed the policy recommendations as part of her superintendent internship program, said that this was a great move forward for the district.

“It shows that the district cares about the mental and emotional health of its current employees,” said Nevels who also sees this through a broader lens of marketability. “The increase of the paid local days also makes us more attractive and comparable to other districts when it comes to recruiting.”

Prior to this addition, DeSoto ISD offered only two local leave days while other districts offered three to five days. This makes the district offering comparable to the surrounding districts of Lancaster, Cedar Hill, Waxahachie, and Duncanville which offer three to five days.

DeSoto ISD Sick Policy Updated

In addition to the three local leave days, the trustees approved the Human Resources Department’s request to update the sick leave policy shifting the district from the sick leave pool concept to the sick leave bank. This change allows a small committee of peers to allocate requested sick time, based on a set of guidelines, from a collection of time previously donated by staff.

The approval of the DEC local leave policy also instituted a new option for retiring staff to receive payment for unused local leave days upon their retirement. Chief of Human Resources Mia Stroy explained that the buyback days will benefit the employee as well as the district.

“This will provide an opportunity for us to create a transition plan for those more seasoned employees that are exiting the district with the new employees that are coming into the district,” explained Stroy.

Bereavement Policy

The policy update also addressed bereavement days for employees that experience loss in their immediate family.

“We know that at some point, we all will experience loss,” said Stroy. “We want to add a component in the policy that will allow a three-day transition for the employee that will not take away the state or local days of the employees.”

The district also adjusted the policy language references for exempt and non-exempt staff to non-duty and vacation days respectively. The total of state and local leave days is 10 for district employees.

The district presented the First Read of the DEC Policy Recommendations to trustees in the April 14 Board Workshop. It passed via the consent agenda during the April 27 regular meeting of the Board.