IPS drops employee attendance requirement for $1,500 bonuses

A woman talks with children sitting at a table in a classroom at a school.
A teacher talks with students at Thomas Gregg Neighborhood School in Indianapolis. Indianapolis Public Schools announced that it is dropping limits on the number of absences employees could have in the spring of 2022 in order to qualify for retention bonuses that will be paid Sept. 9. (Alan Petersime for Chalkbeat)

Indianapolis Public Schools is dropping a limit on the number of absences employees could have last spring in order to qualify for a $1,500 retention bonus the district will pay out this week. 

The initial requirement for the bonus, which the district will pay out Friday and is one of three rounds to be distributed through September 2023, allowed staff no more than two absences after March 28. Although staff could still take personal and vacation days, those who were out sick for more than two days were not eligible for the extra money. 

The bonuses are meant to help the district as it struggles to retain staff during the pandemic. They are being funded with $14 million out of roughly $214 million in federal COVID relief for IPS. 

The employee attendance requirement angered teachers throughout the district who were worried about missing out on the bonus due to a positive COVID diagnosis — which required teachers to quarantine for five days. 

IPS announced on Wednesday it is dropping the attendance requirement for the first bonus in an email to staff.

The district did not immediately respond to requests for comment. It’s unclear whether the limit on employee absences will be dropped for two other bonus payments due in February and September 2023.

“We will continue to evaluate circumstances which may impact staff absences to determine if the attendance requirement will be enforced for the remaining two bonus opportunities,” the district said in the email. 

As with bonuses the district is paying out Friday, $1,000 bonuses paid out in February 2023 will be for employees who worked through the prior fall semester and remain employed on the day of the payout, while $1,500 bonuses paid out in September 2023 will be for employees who stayed with the district through the semester the previous spring, according to an FAQ sent to teachers earlier this year. For those bonuses, staff can miss no more than five days each semester, according to that FAQ. 

The Indianapolis Education Association, which has pushed for pandemic bonuses, praised the decision. 

“After many conversations with the district, we are pleased to see the shift in policy to allow for retained teachers to receive the bonus monies awarded,” the union wrote on Twitter. “We argued from the start that a 2-day absent disqualification was unacceptable – this is major progress!” 

Separately, the district is spending $1 million on virtual mental health therapy for staff and a pilot program in two schools that offers teachers more flexible work hours.

Amelia Pak-Harvey covers Indianapolis and Marion County schools for Chalkbeat Indiana. Contact Amelia at apak-harvey@chalkbeat.org.

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