In a bold dramatic headline of the type associated with reports of international events that threaten global annihilation, a tabloid announced a few days ago that a handful of teachers were busted for faking illness in order to go on a honeymoon or for some other absurd motive. The story was accompanied by a spread of six pictures and had the flavor of a “perp walk.” The fruit of this investigative report was the revelation that some teachers took days off, with pay, to which they would have been entitled had they actually been a bit under the weather.
If they did in fact do this, they were wrong. Such practice must not be taken lightly and must not be condoned. We believe that the terms of our contract are binding on all parties and even though the DOE has taken liberties by various means of defiance and violations, we feel morally as well as legally bound and act accordingly.
Speaking for myself only, I do not necessarily condemn every single instance of teachers taking “sick days” to attend to special urgent matters in their lives. Often the difference between a “sick day” and “personal business” day is a technicality that does not significantly impact instructional continuity or cost the employer any money. It really does not rise to the level of “theft of service.”
Given that only three days per year can be taken for “personal business,” it is inevitable that many members will simply need some days during regular business hours to attend to any of a million ordinary emergencies that arise in our complex lives. Should someone lose a day’s pay when they have a hundred days in their sick bank to be drawn upon, generally without challenge? Does anyone actually deny that such practice is common among employees in other branches of the civil service as well as the private sector?
And although people who have never taught in a classroom tend to mock “mental health” days as just another scam by shirking teachers, it is recognized by psychiatric research that teaching is among the most intensive and stressful jobs and the finest instructors sometimes “need a break,” though this concept is not codified in law. Admittedly, this is an area that lends itself to abuse, which is intolerable from all standpoints.
In some instances we are forced by callous principals into fibbing about the cause for taking days off. Here is an actual case:
A teacher with no history of attendance abuse informed his principal that he would be “taking” a “personal business day” on a Tuesday eight days later. The teacher needed to accompany his wife to the hospital where her obstetrician, a specialist in high-risk pregnancy, would perform a test he deemed necessary as the patient had suffered a serious complication in a prior pregnancy. The test could only be done in the 16th week of pregnancy and Tuesday was the only day that the doctor was available. The principal was told all of this and was shown documentation. As a courtesy the teacher had given the principal plenty of notice.
The principal said: “You’re TAKING a personal day?? You mean you’re APPLYING for a personal day!” He wasn’t joking. His voice was raised with indignation and he turned down the request. Of course the teacher then took a “sick day” to accompany his wife and for many years thereafter never had cause to either “take” or “apply” for the principal’s consent again. He covered himself suitably and did what he had to.
The same principal, by the way, looked the other way when for several consecutive years an assistant principal took the first few weeks of the school year off for strictly elective cosmetic vanity surgery.
In some cases, teachers may be hesitant to take “personal business days” simply because they would be required to inform the principal of the specific reasons for the application and the teacher may regard it as a private matter. A person who has navigated through many decades of life may not wish to hear the principal’s opinion that the teacher’s colonoscopy can be rescheduled for the late afternoon hours after the completion of the 37.5 minutes.
In a perfect world these matters should be simply settled by means of common sense and a modicum of fairness. Usually they are. But sometimes a picayune fib is provoked by a system that so often seems to “game” its most conscientious employees far more egregiously than the other way around.