Wayne County public schools are closed today so that teachers and staff could attend an education rally in Raleigh. Or, that’s how it was reported. In a statement over the weekend, Wayne County Public Schools officials — specifically Superintendent Michael Dunsmore — said that the expected high number of teacher and staff absences on Wednesday caused them to cancel classes and set today as a teacher workday for staff.
“We have had absence requests made by teachers, instructional assistants, cafeteria workers and other important support staff,” Dunsmore said in the statement. “Because we lack the number of substitute teachers and support staff needed to provide coverage, these absences will hinder our ability to deliver education services, provide adequate supervision and ultimately ensure student safety.”
Based on the statement, the teachers and staff offered “absence requests” for the day off. As they were requests from employees for the day off, the employer (the school district) could approve or deny any or all of these requests. Any operation or business — profit, nonprofit, public or private — requires personnel. If too many employees ask for the same day off, how many of those businesses or operations actually would shut down production rather than limit the number of employees who could be off on that one day? We say we know of only one, the public schools.
Some people may look at this situation as a bunch of teachers being irresponsible and leaving their students in a lurch. Not so, as noted, the school district could have denied a brunt of the requests, filled the gaps with available substitutes and staff members and gone on about the job of educating youth. This is what nearly all employers would do. It is a standard of operation. The school district failed this standard.
Understand, teachers have First Amendment rights and freedoms to speech and assembly, and those should never be curtailed. But teachers also have obligations to the children they teach and the taxpayers who pay their salaries. Teachers can rally and openly express themselves any time they wish. However, their obligations should temper when they choose to do so.
Those who organized the Raleigh rally were wrong in selecting a school day for school teachers to speak collectively. WCPS was dead wrong in allowing so many teachers and school workers to take the day off that the students and their education had to pay the price.