CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A new state law was supposed to make it easier for teachers to request a personal leave day. All teachers have to do is give a reason for taking a personal day with at least five days' notice and the fee is gone.
The only problem is the North Carolina State Legislature didn’t say what’s considered an acceptable reason.
It's causing districts like Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to discuss the state law which is getting pushback from teachers.
The law regarding time off for teachers was worked into the 2021 state budget. The changes require districts to increase the cost of hiring a substitute from $50 a day to at least $98 when teachers use personal leave days and no reason is given. If a reason is given, and it's approved, no fee is assessed.
When personal leave can’t be taken, unless approved by supervisor:
- On the first day, the teacher is required to report for the school year
- A required workday
- Days scheduled for testing
- The day before or the day after a holiday or scheduled vacation day.
“On one hand, hey we will take away the payment.," Steve Oreskovic, a CMS teacher, and member of the Superintendent's Teacher Advisory Council said. "On the other hand, you have to tell us why you're going."
Oreskovic is not convinced state legislatures didn't have nefarious reasons for requiring a reason to be given for personal leave.
"The first thing that came to mind to me and a lot of other people was that this was a political move, designed for teachers to not advocate for their students and for their profession," Oreskovic said. "We had in the last couple of years gone to Raleigh, in May, at the beginning of the legislative session, in mass across the state."
He has no definitive proof of this but said requiring teachers to provide a reason for personal time off or be charged is a slippery slope.
Currently, CMS is looking at a way to address and clarify what an acceptable submission for a personal leave day is.
He said the district has to be fair and equitable in their decision-making process and bring teacher voices to the table.
“They need to understand our frustrations and our fears with this particular change to state law," Oreskovic said.
Carol Sawyer, a CMS school board member, and the chair of the CMS policy committee said a working group is discussing a recommendation regarding the issue.
"As policy chair, I'm committed to having uniform standards throughout the district," Sawyer said in a phone call with WCNC. "It's my hope that we will be able to easily accommodate staff requests for personal leave."
The working group will bring a draft recommendation to the Board of Education Policy Committee. According to the CMS website, the policy committee reviews policy proposals and makes recommendations to the Board regarding proposals to revise, create, or retire policies. The committee includes four board members, the superintendent, general counsel, and chief compliance officer.
If the BOE policy group approves the draft recommendation it goes to the full school board. It would then be subject to the BOE policy change process.
A board-approved policy will take the discretion of approving or denying personal leave requests out of principals' hands and point to a clear policy every school must follow regarding personal leave reasons.
Oreskovic said the district simply needs to approve any reason given by a teacher if it's within the given time frame.
"If there is a reason on that line, it gets checked off," Oreskovic said. "Reason, no reason, it does not matter what is put on that line."
Before the change teachers were not required to provide a reason for taking a personal day if they notified their school at least five days ahead of time. Requests made five days in advance were automatically approved and the teacher paid a $50 fee if a substitute teacher filled in. If a sub did not fill in they were not charged the $50 fee.
One teacher who spoke on the terms of anonymity due to fear of retribution said the state law is reducing the morale of teachers despite its original intentions.
"If you're going to say that teachers matter, and if you're going to say that, you know, we're the backbone of children's education and all this kind of stuff, then we need to be treated like that," the teacher said. "In ways that are more than just words like we're tired of hearing the words we need tangible thanks for it."
CMS said in a letter to teachers the district will assess the minimum rate allowed under the law which is $98. It's also retroactively considering all teachers in December 2021 as having provided a reason for any personal leave that was taken, unless they were notified otherwise.
If the request is made five days in advance, the request shall be granted subject to the availability of a substitute teacher, and the teacher cannot be required to provide a reason for the request.
- If no reason is given- $98
- If a reason is given- $0
- If no substitute is hired for the teacher, the substitute reduction will be refunded to the teacher.