Friday, March 25, 2005

Some New York City Teachers Are Getting Religion, At Least Temporarily

The United Federation of Teachers in New York City has been involved in a long-running labor dispute with the Education Department. At this time, contract negotiations are stalled.

In the past, teachers in some areas have used a variation of the "blu-flu" in order to bring pressure to bear on their districts; teachers "call in sick" en masse for the purpose of disrupting schools and their routines. Among teachers, this is known as a "sick-out."

The teachers union in New York City has now developed its own variation of the "sick-out." Yesterday, being "Holy Thursday," thousands of teachers took the day off by
Calling in Catholic:
Encouraged by union leaders, teachers across the city "called in Catholic" to protest the Education Department's decision to hold classes on Holy Thursday, school sources said.

Educrats said it would be days before they knew exactly how many teachers took off yesterday - and they were bracing for more big absences the day after Easter.
The impact was clear at many schools where substitute teachers, regional administrators and parent volunteers were forced to cover classes.

At Public School 5 in upper Manhattan, 31 of 66 teachers were absent. "I actually have supervisors from the region in the classrooms today," said Principal Wanda Soto.

The Education Department was not taken by surprise. A variety of administrators, substitutes, and parent volunteers filled in; there were no school closures.

Thousands of additional teachers are expected to convert to Catholicism on the Monday following Easter. The long term viability of the conversions remain subject to speculation.

This particular job action may have been triggered by School Chancellor Joel Klein, who asked his principals to urge teachers to fulfill their religious obligations after school hours. Traditionally, these days fell within spring break, or if they did not, were deemed acceptable off-days for religious observances.

Realizing the danger, Chancellor Klein softened his stance last week, and told his building principals that it would be acceptable to give teachers the time off, it did not cause too much of a burden to their school's operation.

United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten was unavailable for comment, and the union did not respond to requests for information.

Being a classroom teacher myself, I can certainly understand the frustrations that teachers in New York City must be feeling. In our case, we have not had any type of pay increase in the last three years. And inflation continues its unrelenting attack on our salaries' buying power.

Having said that, when teachers collectively disrupt the educational process, (as they did yesterday and will likely do on Monday) they run a very real risk of alienating the community that they serve. This is usually counter-productive to contract negotiations.

And when teachers disrupt the educational process, what message does that send to students?
For the latest edition of The Carnival Of Education, (published 3/23, at Jenny D's) please click here.

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