By Audrey Spalding and Jarrett Skorup | Special to Watchdog.org
At least 26,000 children will miss school today because their teachers called in sick or took a vacation day to protest proposed right-to-work legislation, which is expected to pass today.
Warren Consolidated Schools, Taylor School District and Fitzgerald Public Schools are confirmed to be closed. It is also suggested that schools in Detroit and St. Johns may be missing a significant number of teachers.
“We’ve had an excessive number of teachers call in,” Warren district spokesperson Robert Freehan said Monday afternoon. “We’re concerned about the safety and security of the students, so we’re treating it as a snow day.”
Ben Lazarus is a school board member-elect for Warren Consolidated. He believes the district, but not the teachers, made the right call.
“I think that political agendas shouldn’t take precedence over student learning,” said Lazarus. “I think the superintendent made the best decision with the facts available.”
The Warren district is the 9th-largest school district in Michigan. More than 15,000 students attend Warren Consolidated Schools. Parents will now have to scramble to find alternative care for their children because of the excessive teacher absences.
Warren Consolidated Schools is the second school district to announce closing in anticipation of a large protest in Lansing against proposed right-to-work legislation. Taylor School District Superintendent Diane Allen toldWDIV that the district would be closed because so many teachers were taking sick or vacation days to attend rallies in Lansing.
Detroit Federation of Teachers president Keith Johnson anticipates “a huge crowd” in Lansing for the protest. When asked by the Free Press if any Detroit Public Schools would be closed, he said, “Hopefully.”
Some roads near the Capitol building will also be closed on Tuesday, due to anticipated protests and rallies.
At least one other district could be affected by the “sick out.” A parent in St. Johns Public Schools north of Lansing with children in the district said they were warned by their teachers that “most of them would not be at school [on Tuesday] because they were attending the protest and if enough substitutes were not found, they would close school.”
Fitzgerald Public Schools in Warren was is also closed because of staff absences. FPS Superintendent Barbara VanSweden announced on the school website, “FPS is closed on Tuesday, December 11, 2012 due to the number of staff that are absent. The district will be closed just like a snow day. My first priority is student safety and without an adequate number of staff, we cannot hold school.”
Freehan estimated that “several hundred” teachers called in sick or said that they would take vacation. The calls began early Monday morning, he said, and continued throughout the day. The district employs about 800 teachers, he said.
“We felt the best approach was to cancel school completely as well as extracurricular activities,” he said. “You can’t have students in school with just two staff members there.”
Lazarus believes right-to-work and other proposed educational reform bills need to be discussed, but that it would be beneficial for legislators to gather more input and information. And a “sick out” is the wrong way to go.
“I do understand that they have a political position,” Lazarus added. “[But] the first priority of a teacher should be student learning and I don’t think this adds to that.”
Spalding and Skorup report for Michigan Capitol Confidential, a project of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a nonpartisan research and educational institute dedicated to improving the quality of life for all Michigan residents by promoting sound solutions to state and local policy questions.