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Portantino introduces two bills protecting school employees and students

California State Sen. Anthony Portantino
State Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) has introduced Senate bills 805 and 849, two measures dealing with absences of school employees and students.
(File Photo)

State Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) recently introduced Senate bills 805 and 849, two measures dealing with consequences from absences of school employees and students.

Senate Bill 805 would prevent school district employees from having to use their sick, vacation or other paid leave during a natural disaster declared by California.

It also clarifies a state law to protect school districts from losing funding because of absences.

“I thought that was a righteous point raised. If you’re getting evacuated at home [or school] and you can’t come to work, you shouldn’t have to lose a sick day or a comp day,” Portantino said in a phone interview.

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As fires raged on and off in Los Angeles County throughout the past two years, some Burbank school employees who live in the affected areas were required to use their personal time off to evacuate their homes.

Diana Abasta, president of the Burbank Teachers Assn., said this past fall that some teachers were unable to get to work because of the closure of the 5 freeway.

Those who came to work arrived late, and they had to use their earned time or be docked pay.

“Employees have questioned in the past why they have to use their time [off] during a natural disaster. We have always received the answer, that is just the way it is,” said Burbank Unified Supt. Matt Hill in a statement.

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Educators reached out to the teacher’s association describing their hardship. Then, Abasta brought the issue to Hill’s attention. He asked Portantino to create a solution.

“I’ll be asking the school board over the next month to formally adopt a support position for SB 805,” said Hill in a statement.

Senate Bill 849, also backed by assembly members Evan Low and Kansen Chu, would allow all students — from elementary to high school — to take days off due to mental or behavioral issues.

“If you’re a student and you’re sick, you can stay home from school and it’s an excused absence. If you’re a student and you go on a college visit, that’s an excused absence,” Portantino said.

“But if you’re a student struggling with mental health, anxiety, depression, [it’s] not considered an excusable absence from school,” he added.

The measure is in line with Portantino’s focus on education and mental health. He wrote legislation to put the suicide hotline on the back of student ID cards.

He also pushed for later school start times, which Portantino said is known to decrease levels of depression among middle and high school students.

“Breaking down stigma around mental health for the next generation is incredibly important,” Chu said in a statement.

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The legislative process for the bills goes through the end of August.

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