Bills would penalize teacher sick-outs

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Capital News Service
LANSING – Teachers who strike illegally –or participate in sick outs– could lose their teaching certificate or be fined a day’s pay for each day that they didn’t teach, under recently proposed legislation.
The bills, sponsored by Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair, Sen. David Robertson, R-Grand Blanc, and Sen. Joe Hune, R-Hamburg, would change the definition of a strike to include a situation when multiple teachers call in sick.
The bills were approved by the Committee on Education and await action by the full Senate.

“By and large, there’s a concern whether strikes are legal or illegal in Michigan,” said Brad Biladeau, associate executive for government relations at the Michigan Association of School Administrators. “The way the law reads, they are illegal. But do sick-outs constitute a strike? To clarify that, lawmakers are turning to legislation.”
A “sick-out” is a way for teachers to stop schools from starting without officially striking, Biladeau said. If enough teachers call in sick on the same day, they can shut down the school.
Union officials say the legislation is unneeded.
“Teacher strikes are already illegal,” said Doug Pratt, director of public affairs for the Michigan Education Association. “There are already penalties, and there is already a process in place. This isn’t really necessary.”
Sen. David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights, minority vice chair of the Education Committee, agreed.
“The conservative response has been to punish the teachers for their advocacy,” Knezek said in a statement via e-mail. “What a disappointment.”
“No student should be expected to learn in a school with mold and mushrooms on the walls or dead rats in the classrooms,” Knezek said, referring to conditions in some Detroit public schools.
Instead, Pratt says that teachers are getting unfairly targeted.
“There are teachers being accused of [sick-outs] who are out right now for chemotherapy,” Pratt said. “Should they be fined because they’re getting treatment for cancer? There is a process of hearings to be conducted to see if there’s something going on that’s actually worthy of those penalties.”
The current fine would remain, but the possibility for the state superintendent of public instruction to revoke a  teaching certificate is new.
“What this is about is educators blowing the whistle on terrible conditions in these schools,” Pratt said. “These bills are [punishing] those people that had the courage to stand up and say something on behalf of their students.”
Michigan is not the only state to have anti-strike legislation.
“This type of legislation is not unusual throughout the country,” Biladeau said, “Although, there are very few states that actually tie legislation to teacher certificates.” Teachers who strike would risk losing their license to teach under the bill package.
In addition to financial penalties, teachers would face potential jail time for violating the law. These ramifications will remain.

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