If you are an appointed teacher and get sick, the contract allows you to be absent from school for a total of 10 days during the school year. If you have days in your “bank” of unused sick days accumulated from past years, you may take those days off for verifiable illness beyond those 10 days. There is also a provision for “borrowing” sick days if necessary. Of course nobody should apply for any benefit under false pretenses.
This “sick day” allowance is realistic and makes common sense. It is fair though not generous.
Research has shown that adults who work with children have a far greater than average exposure to common infections. It has been statistically demonstrated that they are even more at risk than are doctors, nurses and hospital workers. Many schools are overheated and poorly ventilated in winter because windows can’t be opened and the furnace is on full blast.
Kids often cough and sneeze openly while jammed in narrow hallways during change of classes or are confined in the close quarters of a trailer or classroom. A percentage of these kids may come from countries from which there is added risk of proliferation of disease because poverty and the lack of available quality medical care may have precluded children from being properly immunized.
Good people get sick or hurt. It is not “unprofessional” or insubordinate to get the flu or to require surgery. And it is not for the principal to judge whether a person claiming sickness is sick enough to be absent.
But some principals are now sending letters to staff members warning them of the consequences of future absence after those educators have been out 5 or 6 days over many months. The letters are not for file, but they are outrageously provocative. Principals have been known to give “U” ratings for poor attendance based on a few extra days during which the staff member was critically ill.
Grim statistics indicate that these ratings are among the most difficult to overturn regardless of the merits of the case and even if the educator has no history of attendance abuse. The rating can threaten their livelihood, or at least cost them significant income because of frozen salary steps or ineligibility for per session employment.
By showing callousness, some principals feel they are simply fulfilling the DOE’s implicit mandate for being a strong leader who makes tough decisions.
Our contracts are legal documents and the hard-fought rights and protections that are built into them are integral to the dignity of our workplace. There can be no consent to their abrogation.
Passivity and acquiescence are inexcusable. If they are adopted as optional responses, then countless other clauses of the contract will eventually be targeted. In some schools, certain rules for programming and other areas are already being eroded by lack of enforcement.
It is imperative that the school chapter thwart any principal who tries to create contractual “loop holes” where there are none. If you indulge in appeasement, then those “loop holes” will eventually rip our contractual garment to shreds.
It takes inordinate courage to assert basic freedoms under the Klein era. But it is absolutely vital to the survival and prestige of our profession for us to stand firm and never give in to brute intimidation.
Is your staff united? Do they stick together against invidious attempts to divide and conquer? Do they practice a “one for all/all for one” philosophy? Some individuals may, for either idealistic or cynical reasons, choose to “go it alone” and work out a secret personalized deal to advance themselves even at the expense of their professional colleagues. That danger must be met head-on.
Never seek conflict. Always pursue harmony in all your dealings at school. Be a force for conciliation and partnership. But if you are forced to fight, then do so with all the tenacity and cunning that your collective discernment and passion demands.
Your school is the home front. That is where your defense begins. The whole union will fight with you as you fight for yourselves.