Miami-Dade schools brace for possible teacher sick-out over education bill

MIAMI — Miami-Dade schools officials are preparing for widespread teacher absences on Monday, a district spokesman said.

Late Friday, rumors swirled that many teachers would not attend school to protest proposed legislation on teacher pay and tenure.

"Wow, wow, that's incredible," said Gov. Charlie Crist upon hearing of the plan.

"If that happens Monday, I can certainly understand it," he added. "The vast majority of what I've heard today is strongly adverse to the bill. It's been pretty overwhelming."

The controversial bill, which flew through the state Senate last month and cleared the House on Friday, is now in Crist's hands. He has until next Friday to sign it into law, veto it, or do nothing and allow it to become law without his signature.

Supporters say the legislation would reward good teachers and make it easier to fire bad ones by tying teachers salaries to student performance, primarily on tests, and eliminating tenure.

Opponents counter that without job security, Florida will have a hard time keeping and attracting teachers.

To send a message to Crist, hundreds of teachers are planning on taking a personal day or calling in sick on Monday. A group plans on meeting at Tropical Park to rally against the bill, said Francie Diaz-Escoto, a kindergarten teacher at Kenwood K-8 Center in Kendall.

District spokesman John Schuster urged parents to bring their children to school as usual on Monday.

"The district has a plan in place," he said. "School will be in session. Students will be learning."

Under Florida law, teachers cannot go on strike.

There is no law against teachers taking sick or personal time. They could, however, be disciplined for violating the rules regarding leave time.

As of Friday night, there were no indications that Broward teachers were planning anything similar.

Pat Santeramo, head of the Broward Teachers Union, said the union would not promote the action. Neither does the Miami-Dade teachers' union.

"We always urge our members to participate outside of their workdays," said United Teachers of Dade President Karen Aronowitz.

Mark Pudlow, a spokesman for the Florida Education Association, a state teachers union, said he was not aware of teachers elsewhere in Florida planning to be absent from school on Monday.

"I haven't heard of anything, anyplace about that," he said. "And frankly, we need to make sure that teachers report to work as usual. I don't think that's a productive way of going about things."

There was surprise at the bold plan, but also recognition of the angst many teachers are feeling.

"While I'd rather have them in the classroom, there's a side of me that understands how they feel," Crist said. "I imagine it's born out of frustration, out of a hard time being heard in the Legislature, and I'm sympathetic to that side of it."

Crist said he's gotten more reaction about this piece of legislation than he did in 2005, when as attorney general he was asked to intervene in the Terri Schiavo case. He ended up resisting getting involved in the end-of-life issue.

On Friday, at least 20 out of about 60 teachers called in sick at Dr. Manuel C. Barreiro Elementary School in West Kendall, spokesman Schuster said.

Later in the day, dozens of teachers voiced opposition to the bill on Facebook — and talked about a potential sickout in Miami-Dade. Within one hour Friday night, there were more than 60 comments posted on the issue.

Schuster said the Miami-Dade district was taking precautionary measures, including putting substitute teachers on call.

District officials also made a list of all central and regional office employees who are certified to teach. Those employees could be called upon to supplement the substitute staff, Schuster said.

Principals at some Miami-Dade schools were preparing for absences Monday. They asked teachers to confirm whether they would be in class.

"All of my teachers were coming in," said Adrianne Leal, principal at Coral Reef Senior High School. "But we'll see on Monday. We'll roll with it."

In the event of absent teachers, the school could combine classes, Leal said.

"We will make sure kids are safe and secure," she said. "If parents want to pick up their kids, we'll have contingency plans."

In an automated call Friday night, Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho told the teachers they had his support "as we end this week marked by turmoil and uncertainty."

"I will do everything in my power to protect the teaching profession," he said in the call. "On Monday morning when you return to your classroom, please know that you are valued."

Miami-Dade schools brace for possible teacher sick-out over education bill 04/09/10 [Last modified: Saturday, April 10, 2010 12:21am]

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