Fort Worth

Fort Worth Teachers Denied Paid Leave to Care for Daughter With Brain Tumor

District says it is following policy for using donated time off

Two Fort Worth teachers whose 13-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor want to change a school district policy that rejected their request for paid time off to take care of her.

Thirteen-year-old Grace Kirby went to the doctor in March with elbow pain and in a bizarre twist, learned her elbow was fine, but she did have a rare kind of brain tumor.

Her parents — teachers Bruce and Jill Kirby — couldn't believe it.

"There's only like 15 known cases in the world and she's the 16th,” Jill Kirby said.

Soon, the then-12-year-old would undergo risky surgery, and face a tough recovery.

Her mother, a second grade teacher at Lily B. Clayton Elementary School, asked for 10 days off, using a bank of sick leave donated by other teachers. She had already used the maximum number of her own sick days.

"I've been working for the district for 23 years and I just kind of assumed I would get it so I was in shock when they said no,” Jill Kirby said.

The Fort Worth Independent School District said according to policy, she didn't qualify. And neither did her husband, who teaches physical education at nearby Daggett Elementary.

"I mean I just can't imagine what would qualify, what's above and beyond this,” Bruce Kirby said.

In a short written statement, Fort Worth ISD said it followed its policy and the law. It said it could not discuss specifics of Kirby’s case.

"We don't ask for a lot,” Jill Kirby said. “We just thought we'd get those few days to spend with our girl."

After the surgery, Grace could barely walk, or sit up, or eat.

"That's something you don't leave your kid alone to do,” Bruce Kirby said. “I mean, who would leave their kid in ICU or at the house, who needs therapy like that?"

According to district policy, employees can use the sick bank to cover conditions that are "catastrophic" or "terminal."

Grace's condition may have been "catastrophic."

But it wasn't considered "terminal."

"I get she's not terminal because she's not going to die from this, thank goodness, but for me it was very catastrophic," Jill Kirby said.

The catch? The policy only covers immediate family members, like Grace, if they are terminal — not catastrophic.

The parents ended up taking some days off but didn't get paid for it.

"It just makes me sad,” Jill Kirby said.

Amid their challenges, people in their hometown of Aledo and fellow teachers have rallied to support them.

Friends are raising money online and by selling wristbands.

"I would just like the district to think about changing its policy so other families don't have to go through it because it's hard,” Jill Kirby said.

In the end, Grace's tumor turned out to be benign and she is recovering. She plans to go back to school next week.

Stephen Poole, executive director of the United Educators Association, an association which represents Fort Worth teachers, said the district acted according to its policy.

Fort Worth’s policy is more generous than many surrounding districts, he said. Many others approve such benefits only to employees who are seriously ill and not their family members.

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