State: Teachers with flu won’t be penalized for absences

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ALBUQUERQUE, NM (KRQE) – The state says if teachers get sick, it’s up to the districts to cut them a break.

The Public Education Department sent a memo to superintendents and charter school leaders last week, saying teachers who get the flu but provide a doctor’s note won’t get dinged on their evaluations, at their district’s discretion.

“Districts and charter schools have local discretion in their teacher attendance policies-and have broad latitude in what constitutes an excusable absence,” the P.E.D. said in an emailed statement to KRQE News 13 Monday.

The New Mexico Department of Health has said flu cases are double what they were last year. The widespread sickness has caused some schools to close temporarily: Eunice and Dora school districts closed last month; and Estancia Valley Classical Academy in Moriarty announced it would close Monday and Tuesday.

On Feb. 3, the P.E.D.’s memo stated any teacher who gets the flu can provide a doctor’s note, and it’s up to the districts to decide whether to count that absence against them in their evaluations.

However, the Albuquerque teachers union doesn’t call that a break.

“Now they’re giving people with the flu a pass?” asked Albuquerque Teachers Federation President Ellen Bernstein. “It may sound humane, but really it’s just part of a crazy system.”

She said the memo puts a spotlight on the flaws in the state’s teacher evaluation system that says teachers who use more than six sick days get a so-called “ding” on their record.

“If we’re sick, if we’re having surgery, if we’ve had a horrible accident and we’re laid up in the hospital, they count it against us,” Bernstein said.

The National Education Association also called out the P.E.D. Monday, saying this new directive is leaving out all the teachers who have to miss class because of other illnesses.

“We should be evaluated on how well we teach, not on whether we catch a cold,” Bernstein stated.

The P.E.D. stood by its evaluation system, adding teachers’ absences only count toward five percent of their evaluations. Principal observations are worth 40 percent and student achievement growth is worth 35 percent, the P.E.D. said.

“Predictably, this is what happens when a teachers’ union starts to lose power and influence-they resort to scare tactics, misinformation, and conspiracy theories,” P.E.D. spokesperson Lida Alikhani said Monday.

Gov. Susana Martinez revised the evaluation system last year so that teachers are given six days before they are docked on their evaluations; it used to be three.

The P.E.D. provided the following statement Monday about teacher attendance:

“Just five years ago, teacher chronic absenteeism in New Mexico was at 47%. Today, after multiple years of NMTEACH implementation, it is at 12%. Students are thus getting more instructional hours than ever before-400,000 more. And this year the PED has added ten additional instructional days to the calendar-which NEA has not acknowledged. More instructional time and more time with their classroom teachers is one of the major reasons why student achievement is on the rise in New Mexico.”

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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