- A recent case in California where an elementary school teacher was told she had to pay for her own substitute while she took an extended sick leave to undergo cancer treatment sparked outrage and concern over the policy's fairness, but several districts in California and other states have similar policies, Education Week reports.
- On average, teachers have about 12 sick days per year and can roll those days over, so experienced teachers often have a significant number of accumulated sick days, but extended sick leave policies vary widely and some districts require the cost of substitutes be deducted from teacher salaries after sick days are exhausted because the cost is too much for the district to bear.
- Some districts find workaround solutions to the problem either by setting up catastrophic sick leave banks, where teachers can donate sick leave time, or by allowing teachers to directly donate sick leave to a colleague. Union leaders admit the issue is a problem and a sign of disrespect to teachers, but caution about changing policies without more money from states to fund the change. Overall, union leaders say, the issue affects a comparatively small number of teachers.
The issue of pay and benefits for teachers is at the forefront of many school district budget decisions these days as teacher recruitment remains a top concern in many areas. Teacher strikes have also focused attention on the issue. School district leaders are looking for ways to attract and retain the best teachers in a climate of discontent and budgetary restraint as competing district priorities claim their attention.
The issue of teacher leave is generally not a top priority for districts, nor is it a top priority for many employees when they are hired, according to a 2013 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management. However, this does become a major issue for teachers when they or a family member become seriously ill or when they need maternity leave. The issue affects their work-life balance and may discourage spouses or family members, as well, causing them to withdraw their support of the teaching profession and negatively impact the teacher’s decision to stay in the district or the profession altogether.
Sick leave policies in school districts vary widely. While most teachers have more generous sick leave day policies than employees at most companies, they don’t compare with the paid-time off policies of the best companies out there. And many teachers are forced to cut their recovery time from childbirth or other long-term illnesses short because they can’t afford to pay substitutes out of their own pockets. The problem is that many school districts can’t afford to pay the substitutes, either, without additional state or local funding.
District leaders may need to take another hard look at sick and family leave policies to see what can be done to improve them. These policies need to be as generous as possible and provisions need to be in place to help teachers in unusual circumstances where more sick leave is needed. Crafting policies concerning catastrophic leave banks or allowing employees to donate sick days to another teacher can help in those situations, and offering affordable options for teachers to obtain short-term disability policies can help, as well. Setting up special funds to support teachers in crisis situations can also help boost morale. Teachers need to feel respected and supported, and planning for ways to help them through the worst of times is one way to do that.