So Facebook basically blew up today after the East Baton Rouge Parish School System (EBRPSS) announced they were canceling school on Wednesday because about 1/3 of the teachers in the Parish opted to take a personal day to protest Governor Bobby Jindal’s education reform package. This had the additional effect of annoying parents of students attending Catholic schools since EBRPSS inexplicably provides transportation for some of those students as well. Obviously, this creates some challenges. Parents of public school kids have to find something for their kids to do (BREC has provided free options) and parents of Catholic school students are going to have to arrange transportation. Good thing for the teachers that the legislature is voting on it and not the public, woe unto anyone who inconveniences a voter. With that said, I can see it being used as an issue in future EBRPSS related tax elections.
But my point in posting today is to address the folks mad at the teachers for taking off and protesting at the Capitol. Honestly, I cannot comprehend how anyone can be angry with a group of citizens peacefully assembling to petition their government for a readdress of a grievance. Sound familiar? It should, it’s basically the last two phrases in the First Amendment of the US Constitution. Seriously, these teachers are simply availing themselves of their rights as citizens of the United States (well, availing themselves of the right to be protected from Congress and, by extension, the States creating laws preventing the free exercise thereof, but that’s getting technical). So anyone angry at teachers for simply protesting may want to take a civics class.
OK, so we shouldn’t be mad at teachers for exercising their rights. Fine. So we should be mad at them for sacrificing student’s learning in order to protect their job conditions, right? Well, not really. While we tend to hold teachers to a higher collective standard because we entrust them with our children, there’s really no reason why they should be penalized for the decision to protect their rights. Teachers apparently believe that there is something worth fighting against in Gov. Jindal’s school reform bill. As government workers, they can only fight that bill on personal time, thus they have requested time off to do so.
I know what you’re saying: “Come on, man! I have to be able to be mad at something! I am so inconvenienced by this! I’m infuriated!” Alright, I’ll throw you a bone. If you want to be mad at something, take a close look at the EBRPSS Personal Leave policy. The policy basically authorizes teachers two days per school year that they can take off for whatever reason. In addition, the teacher is only required to provide 24 hours notice. When combined with the Employee Leave and Absence Policy as well as this PowerPoint presentation concerning EBRPSS policies (see Slides 25 & 26), it appears that the leave cannot be denied (At least that’s my reading of the documents, I welcome any clarifying information). Assuming that’s the case, this can obviously cause significant staffing problems under certain conditions (like the one we have now).
I have a problem with that policy. I served for 6 years in the US Army and had a generous leave policy to the tune of 30 days a year (granted, one of the working conditions was “willing to be shot at when necessary”, so the leave was well earned). With a generous policy like that, certain restrictions had to be put in place. One of the primary ways of ensuring proper staffing was requiring prior approval and advance notice. Here are my two suggestions for changing the Personal Leave policy to prevent something like this from happening in the future. First, as long as personal leave is requested at least 7 days out, it does not require approval. This protects the teacher’s ability to take off for planned, important events regardless of the whims of middle and upper management. Second, personal leave requested less than 7 days out must be approved by the Central Office. This will ensure someone notices the potential for a critical staffing shortage. Taken together, teachers can still stage mass protests given sufficient notice and planning. This wouldn’t be so much of a debacle if parents had more than a one day notice that school was canceled. Ultimately, these two changes would allow the Central Office to prevent sudden, unanticipated shortages of staff allowing it to continue its mission of educating students while still providing teachers with the ability to exercise their rights.