Adverse weather policy devalues teachers

Snowy roadsCentral and Eastern North Carolina experienced what is, at least by our standards, a significant amount of snow Tuesday evening and on through Wednesday morning. It was at least enough to cancel public schools in impacted counties and districts, though it often doesn’t take even that much snow to cancel or delay school around here. Sometimes even the threat of snow is enough or, as we saw recently, brutally cold weather.

My friends and family from the north often laugh at the way we respond to winter weather, but it makes perfect sense: as a rare occurrence, we simply don’t have the equipment and resources to deal with such weather. Even if it’s just a light dusting, it’s much safer for everyone involved to shut down business as usual, including school, and let it pass. Better safe than sorry, the old saying goes.

Much safer, that is, for everyone except our teachers, not to mention other public school employees. Rather than allowing teachers a “snow day,” North Carolina puts “absences” due to inclement weather under the category of vacation leave.The North Carolina Public Schools Benefits and Employment Policy Manual states, “Employees may elect to use annual vacation leave for absences due to adverse weather conditions only on days when students are not required to attend school due to adverse weather conditions.”

To take a specific example, the Inclement Weather Procedures for Wayne County Public Schools, which canceled classes for this round of winter weather, expresses this policy in clear terms. “In the case of early dismissal or school cancellation,” the choice for non-essential employees, which includes teachers, is either to go to work or not. If work is the choice, then the teacher must be in within two hours of normal start time. If the teacher can’t make that window or chooses not to come into work, then he or she has the “option” of taking either an annual leave day or leave without pay for the absence.

The Inclement Weather Procedures for Wayne County Public Schools makes it clear that the “choice is yours. The district respects your right to make the best decision for yourself.” Indeed, it is stressed, “The worst consequence of choosing not to travel [into work] would be the loss of a day’s pay. This is a small price to pay for safety and continued healthy service.”

It’s not really a small price to pay, though. According to the North Carolina Public Schools Benefits and Employment Policy Manual, annual vacation leave is encouraged to renew “physical and mental capabilities and to remain fully productive.” For a teacher who has been employed less than five years, vacation leave accrues at a rate of 1.17 days per month. The rate scales upward according to years of service, topping out at 2.17 days per month for teachers who have twenty years or more under their belt. That’s not a whole lot of vacation time, and it can easily be eaten up by school closings. The other option is, of course, to take leave without pay. We all know by now that teachers in North Carolina rank almost at the bottom nationally when it comes to salary. Sacrificing a day’s pay may not seem like a big deal in from a policy perspective, but for some teachers it may decide whether to pay a bill on time or not. Teachers may retain the choice to come into work when bad weather strikes, but it remains, in many ways, a forced choice.

We’ve heard a lot this past year about the plight of public school teachers in North Carolina, and the general sense is that they are devalued, that they are not treated as the professionals that they are. Requiring teachers to come into work in adverse weather conditions or take vacation or unpaid leave is one more example of that devaluation. Of course, the need to do work doesn’t stop with the weather, but in virtually every other profession trust and common sense dictate that that work can be done in the safety of one’s own home, if necessary. Teachers should be allowed the same deference, for their safety and that of everyone else.

(Dr. Hollis Phelps is an Assistant Professor of Religion at Mount Olive College.)

9 Comments

  1. Pamela Grundy

    January 29, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    Words of wisdom about teachers and snow from a friend of a friend in Georgia: “There’s one part of southern snow drama that needs to be highlighted over and over. When government fails, when meteorology fails, when parents and kids are in need, who steps in? The teachers. They are routinely disrespected by the public and poorly paid, and yet many of them slept at schools last night with their students instead of trying to get home to their own families. It actually brings tears to my eyes to think of scared elementary kids being entertained and taken care of overnight by their teachers. Teachers are good souls.”

  2. GOP Rules

    January 29, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    Well the fact that teachers rarely take a vacation day makes this a moot point. With so many breaks in the schedule teachers usually just use those as vacation. That was what my mother did before she retired, and she had around six months of “vacation” paid to her after retirement.

    One more post to promote liberal hysteria and attempt to “evicerate”…..someone?

  3. Lindsay

    January 29, 2014 at 4:29 pm

    Please keep in mind, and consider adding to the actual post, that ALL “vacation” leave is already scheduled and used up for new teachers. The 11 days in Buncombe County’s calendar this year that are shaded in pink are paid with teachers’ “annual leave” (ie, vacation) days. They are not optional. There is no accrual of “extra” annual leave time for several years. http://www.buncombe.k12.nc.us/cms/lib5/NC01000308/Centricity/Domain/4/2013-2014%20Calendar%20182%20Days.pdf

  4. LayintheSmakDown

    January 29, 2014 at 9:18 pm

    Lindsay, it seems strange they would charge an annual leave day on holidays (the pink shaded days). How do they then charge you for the snow days if all vacation is taken by holidays? It might be time to mobilize a change in the school board over there.

  5. John

    January 30, 2014 at 5:14 am

    As RN who is a public employee. I have never missed a day because of snow in 15 years. We are expected to make it to work no matter the weather. It would be unfair to give other state employee’s the day off with pay while at the same time telling other’s to endanger their own life and property to come to work because of the snow and ice.

  6. Jim Wiseman

    January 30, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    Well, welcome to the real world. How can teachers be expected to prepare students for the real world if they don’t have to live in it themselves?

  7. Alan

    January 31, 2014 at 7:58 am

    I’m a public school teacher who has followed your site for a while and I agree with most things you all write about what’s happened to the profession the last few years.

    However, with the exception of the point Lindsay makes above – this happened to me during long ice storms about 10 years ago and I carried a negative leave balance for about two years, much to the chagrin of our HR department but without any real consequence – the idea that this policy ‘devalues’ teachers really makes it seem like you all are grasping at straws. It’s about #783 on the list of things that are making the profession unbearable.

    My school system has been closed since Wednesday. Thursday and Friday were optional work days – annual leave charged if we take off – and I am happily going in to work because I need the planning time. If I were caught up at work (and, really, who is?) if gladly take the Annual Leave to hang out with my two year old daughter.

    Let’s not forget that the GA eliminated 5 workdays from the teacher calendar a few years back and left us with less paid time to plan for our classes. I don’t know any teachers who aren’t still working those five days. Let’s focus on the ways our students, schools, and (yes) teachars are really getting hosed.

  8. Forgotten Flowers

    February 6, 2014 at 8:27 pm

    One thing is that the County had made those days “no school for students, teachers report to work” or that they had said “no school for students and “optional” for teachers, then I would agree that if the teacher decided to stay home, she/he would use their “sick, annual, or personal days for that purpose. However, when a District makes the decision of closing schools for teachers and students, as it has been the case for some counties, without giving the “option” to us to come into work…it is outrageously incorrect, unfair and against all principles to penalize teachers in such a way since it was not any teacher’s fault the decision to “shut down” the schools. Furthermore, if those days are going to be “recovered”/made-up in the next months until the end of the school year by extending calendar, school days, and 2 workdays converted into regular school days…so if we are “paying” already by working more extra hours why in addition to that they will take our Annual leave, or not getting paid for??? Talking about getting “hosed”, and “abused”!!

  9. Linda

    February 11, 2014 at 10:02 am

    One thing most teachers don’t realize is that other state employee’s are required to work twelve month’s out of the year, eight hours a day and don’t get a week for Spring break or two week at Christmas unless they use their vacation days or annual leave for any extra time they time off for holidays. To top this off if you are considered an essential employee, many employee’s are required to work during storms, snow and ice. I would like to say many of these employee’s may live in one county and work in another county or location within the state. Some individuals may travel over 50 miles one way ever day to their assigned duty station or office. Just as the teacher’s if they do not report to work, then they are required to take annual leave for all days we do not work, due to adverse weather or just for an extra day of vacation. For many years you have been blessed as you have received pay increases, as your jobs were reclassified as the other state employee’s did not receive even a cost of living pay increase, extra days off for holidays, and continued to have their case loads or job duties increased as many positions were frozen and not filled when other employee’s retired. Take some time to talk with other state employee’s before you complain, I retired from one of these jobs, and guess what I returned to work as teacher and no I would not say teaching is more difficult than the job I worked in 32 years before retiring. I suggest teacher’s try working in some of the other state government departments and positions and then they would realize that working with the public for eight hours or more each day is not a pie job, nor will you get rich do so.