Bridging the Opportunity Divide

When Their Coworker Fell Ill, These Selfless Teachers Used a Little-Known Policy to Help Her Out

September 16, 2014
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When Their Coworker Fell Ill, These Selfless Teachers Used a Little-Known Policy to Help Her Out
The "Catastrophic Illness Donation Program" allows teachers battling illness to ask fellow co-workers to donate days off. Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
More workplaces should have programs like this, which allow employers to donate unused leave to help out fellow coworkers.

Our country’s hardworking teachers certainly deserve their vacations, but in the Los Angeles Unified School District, some educators decided to give up their days off to help a fellow coworker battle cancer.

Carol Clark, a much-loved sixth-grade elementary school teacher from Cudahy, Calif., was diagnosed with breast cancer last year. As ABC-7 reports, the 56-year-old quickly used up all her vacation days and the 120 sick days she had accumulated in her 17 years at Jaime Escalante Elementary School as she underwent chemotherapy and doctors visits. Due to her diagnosis, she missed all but two months of the school year.

“I lost pay, I lost my medical benefits,” she describes to the local television station. “I lost all that stuff.”

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Forced to miss more school for additional treatment, her husband Dave (who is also a teacher) decided to ask his coworkers for help by using a little-known Los Angeles plan called the Catastrophic Illness Donation program, the Los Angeles Times writes. The program allows teachers who have used up all their paid leave and are battling a severe illness to ask their fellow district employees to donate their own days off. Teachers can only use it once in their careers and must prove they are ill.

Although Dave was reluctant to ask his coworkers to donate their well-earned time off, it became necessary to do so. He left a sign-up sheet in the teachers’ lounge for anyone to donate up to 20 days and, incredibly, the community immediately rallied for one of their own.

Friends and even strangers across the whole school district stepped up and donated a total of 154 sick days — nearly an entire school year — to their colleague. According to the L.A. Times, one coworker who rarely spoke to Carol sacrificed 10 days.

“Carol has given a lot of love to a lot of people. She doesn’t realize it, but she has,” teacher Justine Gurrola tells ABC-7.

The Clarks were overwhelmed by the incredible generosity. With the donations, Carol was able to make up some of the pay she lost and even has extra sick days on reserve — should she need them.

“I was pretty blown away,” Carol, who returned to teaching this month, says. “It’s an indescribable feeling. It increases your faith in humanity.”

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