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REGISTER VIEWPOINT: It's enough to make you sick

Commentary • Mar 23, 2010 at 6:24 PM

When the Margaretta Board of Education opted to suspend a popular kindergarten teacher for questionable use of a sick day, they opened a can of worms in a cash-strapped school district.

Sally Smith, a teacher for 25 years, called in sick Feb. 5 and was reportedly seen in Bucyrus, presumably en route to an auction house with her husband.

Although information of the Smith sighting came from an anonymous caller, the board acted on the report and after a pre-disciplinary hearing, approved a resolution to subpoena auction house records.

How exactly is "sick" defined in the context of an employee's rights? Sick does not necessarily mean down for the count, nor is it defined by contagion, need for doctor's care or enforced bed rest. Too sick to effectively teach and guide 27 five-year-olds is not necessarily too sick to ride in a car with another adult. If Smith was suspended for repeated sick leave abuse, it has not been documented in her personnel file. In fact, she has consistently earned positive ratings on her evaluations.

Unless the school's employee manual specifies what can be considered valid reasons to call in sick and unless the board can clearly show Smith stepped outside these guidelines, the board should reconsider the suspension -- and as quickly as possible.

Levies are votes of confidence of a board's ability to make wise decisions with taxpayers money and with the education of a community's children. The district has tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to pass a much-needed levy. Ill will in the community generated by the board's discipline of a long-time teacher could further endanger levy tries. Though many will side with Smith and many will side with the board, the issue is divisive at a time when only unity will sustain the schools.

Are all employees' paid sick days scrutinized as diligently, or was Smith targeted because her salary reflected 25 years of step raises? Did questioning of high pupil-to-teacher ratio put the board on the defensive as some of our readers have suggested? These are questions parents, a.k.a. voters, are asking.

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