Teachers Find Flaws With New Leave Policy
The gallery was packed during the Wetzel County Board of Education meeting held Monday night at the county office. Many teachers were present to voice concerns regarding a proposed revised paid leave policy and rumors of school consolidation.
Josh Weekley, technology coordinator and Technology Students of American (TSA) advisor for Valley High School, read a letter to the board written by an employee at New Martinsville School which was compiled of concerns brought to attention by employees at the school. The letter was forwarded to Weekley at VHS and stated nearly all of the same concerns heard from employees at VHS.
In this letter, Weekley shared many employees’ concerns regarding revisions to Wetzel County Policy GCBD. “Our biggest concern still remains that a policy change for all is being considered, rather than addressing any perceived attendance problems directly with an employee or employees that may be taking advantage of paid leave,” Weekley read. “It seems to us that instead of a change in policy, this problem could be addressed with the employee evaluation process already in place.” The letter goes on to suggest implementing an improvement plan for attendance for those needing one. In this scenario any employee who has questionable attendance could meet with an administrator and, if warranted, then the attendance plan could be put in place for that employee.
Another issue with many teachers is that the policy apparently attempts to include both new and old retirement systems, which is problematic. Apparently, the old system has built-in benefits for being conservative when using sick days, while the new retirement system has no such benefits. “Making a policy that is mostly punitive for all doesn’t solve anything,” Weekley continued.
Those who compiled the letter also brought up the point that while they all agreed teachers needed to be in the classroom, it seemed hypocritical to say teachers are irresponsible when taking sick days, but it was acceptable for teachers to leave the classroom when being sent to professional conferences and trainings. Those in the letter suggested the money used to pay a substitute teacher could be used to pay a teacher to attend evening meetings or weekend conferences.
Additionally, teachers are not comfortable with the wording in the revised policy that requires employees to present medical verification if requested by the superintendent. Weekley noted that Title I and ADA limits employer access to medical information. “Even though the superintendent is not requesting access to medical records, a medical diagnosis or statement can also be an invasion of privacy,” the letter reads. Furthermore, the employees were concerned that a disclosure of a medical diagnosis could lead to discrimination. Additionally, they are concerned with where such information would be stored and who would have access to that information.
“This blanket paid leave policy, as written, is too structured to fairly allow for the uniqueness of all employees in Wetzel County Schools,” Weekley said. “Different employees need different considerations.” He went on to list such varying considerations such as the fact that teachers of young children are exposed to more germs and tend to get sick more, and that veteran teachers may be facing more health challenges than they did when they were younger.
Relatedly, NMS teacher Pam Shockley also addressed the board, stating she had asked to take half of a personal day on Dec. 23, since the second half of the day was declared an early dismissal for the staff as a gift from the board. However, Shockley was informed that she would have to take a full personal day since the board declared the staff be dismissed at 12:05 p.m., not noon. “If we were being dismissed at 1 p.m., it wouldn’t be an issue,” Shockley said. “It’s the fact that it’s five minutes.”
Shockley went on to ask that such decisions be left to the discretion of the principals, to which many board members agreed leaving it to the principal would cause conflict, as every teacher would feel their excuse was legitimate. “It’s a give and take world,” Shockley recognized. “I’m not asking for a pat on the back. All I’m asking for is five minutes.”
After some discussion, it was determined the policy needed to be changed. Regarding Shockley’s request, President Blair assured she would hear a decision one way or the other by the next day. As promised, Shockley received an e-mail from her principal that stated she would be approved to take just a half personal day Dec. 23.
Regarding the paid leave policy, the board elected to table the policy and refer it to a committee for further discussion. Regarding other county policies, the board approved the first reading of Wetzel County Policy EBB-R, Safety Control; and the second reading of Wetzel County Policy GCDA-R, Attendance Director/Student Support Services Coordinator/At-Risk Programs.
In another matter, Tom West, Valley High School’s head football coach, also approached the board regarding hearing a rumor that VHS would be consolidated. “I’m for small schools,” he began. “And we have a wonderful school.”
He went on to say that many students at VHS are involved in multiple activities and bemoaned the fact that if these students were combined with another school, it would be unlikely they would get to participate as much as they presently do because of the larger school size.
“I think what’s happening is you’re being influenced by the state department,” West said to the board. West went on to compliment the teaching staff saying, “You have the finest teachers. You’re fortunate. I would put them up against anybody in the state and in the country. I taught elsewhere and I know what it’s like.”
Board President Mike Blair then spoke, clarifying, “The state department isn’t coming down our neck.” He also said he, too, didn’t favor school consolidation, but declining enrollment was a big problem in the county and that they had to find the best way to fill academic needs in all the county schools. “We’re losing kids, and that’s gotta change,” Blair concluded. Other board members assured those present there were no plans by the board to consolidate.