San Francisco Teachers Cut School Before Thanksgiving Holiday

In San Francisco, more than 600 school employees took the day off on November 26th to extend their Thanksgiving holiday — and as result, the San Francisco Unified School District scrambled to find enough qualified adults to watch over students.

According to the school district, 432 teachers were absent – about 12% of the district's 3,700 teachers – with the vast majority calling in sick or taking a personal day. A few were off for bereavement or training, writes Jill Tucker of San Francisco Chronicle.

The school district called in every available substitute to cover the open classrooms but fell dozens short, requiring more than 100 central office staff members with teaching credentials to fill in for the day.

In addition, some 179 special-education and preschool aides also took the day off. Almost 10% of teachers were also absent November 25th. The glut of absences seems to have been unique to San Francisco, with teachers in other Bay Area districts reporting to work as usual.

"It does create a sense of frustration when we have these kinds of numbers that happen for no apparent discernible reason other than it's a day before a holiday," said Superintendent Richard Carranza. "Yeah, it's a little disappointing."

On average, about 7% of teachers are absent each day, with the rate spiking to about 9% most Fridays. Christopher Rosenberg, principal at John Muir Elementary in the Western Addition, said that seven of the school's 20 teachers were absent, with five substitutes and one central office worker covering for them. One position, an extra teacher who works with small groups of struggling students, went unfilled for the day, according to Rosenberg.

"It is a tricky dilemma to balance the rights of employees to have personal days and sick days and the need to provide quality education to children every day of our already short school year," Rosenberg said. "I would love for the district and union to come up with a really good long-term systemic solution."

Under the labor contract, teachers get 10 days of leave per year, seven of which can be used as personal days rather than illness.

That means instead of calling in sick, they can schedule the personal days at will – and they don't have to ask permission, said Dennis Kelly, president of the local teachers union, the United Educators of San Francisco.

The absentee rate on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving was 11.7% this year, compared to 9.9% in 2012, according to district officials said. Other districts did not seem to have the same problem Tuesday.

The district officials in Berkeley, South San Francisco and San Carlos reported no unusual absentee rates. There was "nothing out of the ordinary" in Berkeley in terms of the teacher absentee rate, according to district spokesman Mark Coplan.

Oakland Unified and several other districts have avoided the potential for a high-absentee issue by creating a week-long holiday for Thanksgiving.

"My concern is over what quality of instruction are kids getting today," San Francisco school board President Rachel Norton said. "If it's too much to expect people to work during this abbreviated week, maybe we need to look at changing the calendar."

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