A post on the popular Nextdoor site suggests that some educators planning to take part in teacher walkout day protests scheduled for Friday, April 27, may have their pay docked for doing so without a doctor's note and requests that medical professionals who sympathize with their plight volunteer to write one up for anyone in this situation.
The message appears to be a response to an email written by Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. The email, which is reproduced here in its entirety, essentially says those APS teachers who head to the State Capitol to share their concerns about pay, resources and more with elected officials must take unpaid leave even though schools in the district will be closed that day.
"Are you a doctor? Will you consider helping a teacher?" the introduction to the post begins. "As many of you know, our schools and our teachers are desperate for help and are ready to make a stand on Friday. Many of our teachers could be financially penalized for participating in Friday's demonstration without a doctor's note, as standing up for themselves and our children violates their employment agreement."
The intro continues: "If you are a doctor or a PA, would you please consider making yourself available to any teachers you know personally or within your community to see if they need this assistance?... They need our help! Also, please consider wearing Red for Ed on Friday! Thank you, neighbors!!!"
There is no shortage of school districts in Colorado that have announced closures because of the rallies. Schools in Jefferson and Douglas counties will be closed today, April 26, while those that have canceled classes for Friday include Adams 12 Five Star Schools, Adams County 14 School District, Boulder Valley School District, Canon City School District, Cherry Creek School District, Colorado Springs School District 11, Denver Public Schools, Lake County School District, Littleton Public Schools, Poudre School District, School District 27J, St. Vrain Valley School District, Summit School District, Thompson School District, Weld County School District 6 and Weld County School District RE-5J.
Aurora Public Schools won't open as normal on Friday, either. But the aforementioned email from Superintendent Munn, shared on Facebook by Dan Jorgensen, who's on the APS Board of Education, maintains that contractual agreements require the unpaid-leave approach.
An excerpt reads: "The 30 person limit on Special Leave has not been lifted by district administrators. The leave policy is part of the Master Agreement negotiated between the Board and AEA [the Aurora Education Association]. District administrators, including me, do not have the authority to unilaterally change or limit this policy. CEA [the Colorado Education Association] is encouraging districts to take whatever action they can, which is 'consistent with their contracts.' This is what we have done."
Munn adds that members of the district's legal team have said an exception in the policy for Friday can't be made. As such, "staff may submit for a personal day. However, the contractual limit on Special Leave for licensed staff has been reached. Staff members who were unable to obtain Special Leave are limited to taking the day as Leave without Pay, which is a leave status that we are not denying nor approving. To take the day as Leave without Pay, staff should work with their site secretary to ensure the leave is entered correctly. Any staff member who reports Health Leave may be asked by their immediate supervisor for documentation from their physician. Health Leave taken without the requested supporting documentation will be considered Leave without Pay."
When Westword reached out to Aurora Public Schools for additional comment, a representative responded by supplying a copy of Munn's email.
No other school system in Colorado has publicly announced a similar approach. But the Nextdoor post illustrates a fear that they'll hit teachers in the pocketbook anyhow sans a doctor's note.
Continue to read the post shared on Nextdoor, followed by Munn's email:
Friends, if you have friends and colleagues in the field of medicine, encourage them to write doctor's notes for teachers in Colorado on Friday the 27th. Many districts will not let us march unless we take a sick day and provide a note. Our contract language will not let us use our personal days. Without a note, we will be docked pay and we are living pay check to pay check. Please reach out to nurses and doctors that you know and ask them to provide sick notes for teachers so we can go to the Capitol and increase funding for our students. Thank you for supporting education in Colorado!
Email from Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn:
I understand there are questions about the student non-contact day this Friday and I apologize for any confusion. I want to share a few quick points to address the issues that have been brought to my attention:
First, the Board has not taken any kind of formal position on anything related to this matter. The Board can only act by vote at a noticed public meeting and there has been no such meeting or vote. Any communication that the Board has taken a position was in error.
Second, the 30 person limit on Special Leave has not been lifted by district administrators. The leave policy is part of the Master Agreement negotiated between the Board and AEA. District administrators, including me, do not have the authority to unilaterally change or limit this policy. CEA is encouraging districts to take whatever action they can, which is “consistent with their contracts.” This is what we have done.
Third, the District has been advised by legal counsel that the Board cannot change the leave policy or make a onetime exemption for this purpose. If the Board were to change policy for the express purpose of facilitating attendance at this event, it would be an act of the District using taxpayer dollars to support a political activity. For various reasons, such an expenditure is not allowed.
Fourth, staff may submit for a personal day. However, the contractual limit on Special Leave for licensed staff has been reached. Staff members who were unable to obtain Special Leave are limited to taking the day as Leave without Pay, which is a leave status that we are not denying nor approving. To take the day as Leave without Pay, staff should work with their site secretary to ensure the leave is entered correctly.
Any staff member who reports Health Leave may be asked by their immediate supervisor for documentation from their physician. Health Leave taken without the requested supporting documentation will be considered Leave without Pay.
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In the event a classified or APT staff member does not report to work on Friday, they too will be required to use the appropriate leave for the day.
Finally, it is important to point out that APS has taken the same approach to this issue as every other district. Across the metro area, like APS, districts responded to close school only after verifying that significant reported absences were going to occur. Also like APS, districts are requiring staff to follow their established leave policies. To the extent there are differences, those are a reflection of the different Master Agreement provisions across districts.
I want to assure you that K-12 education funding adequacy and teacher voice are very important issues that we want to continue to support in a variety of ways. In March, I submitted a joint op-ed to the Aurora Sentinel arguing for significant increases in school funding. Further, I am currently working with a group of superintendents to issue a position paper supporting the call for increased school funding in general and increased teacher pay in particular. While I believe we must fight for these issues, we have obligations and limitations I must respect. We must balance what are at times conflicting interests, as you must do, as we work to improve K-12 education.
Aurora Public Schools