We wanted to provide a final update regarding today’s education rally in Tallahassee, and answer some of the common questions we received during the past several days.
Thanks again to all who served in our schools today, as well as those who represented us in Tallahassee.
Polk County Public Schools experienced higher than normal teacher absences today, Jan. 13, while a statewide education rally took place in Tallahassee.
There were about 1,520 educators who reported an absence today, of which approximately 1,260 requested a substitute. (some positions might not require a substitute, such as academic coaches, guidance counselors or deans). A typical number of daily absences is between 300 to 400. Altogether, PCPS employs more than 6,800 teachers.
We covered Monday’s absences with a combination of substitute teachers and district staff. We informed the public about our plans using our automated messaging system, social media, the district’s website and a news conference.
Below are some common questions we’ve received:
-When did Polk County Public Schools begin planning for the rally?
Our planning began in November when approximately 600 teachers indicated that they would be taking part in the rally. Our substitute provider, Kelly Educational Services, was prepared to cover those early estimates. We continued to communicate with the Polk Education Association (our local teachers’ union) and monitor expected participation in the rally.
-Why did PCPS not have enough substitutes scheduled for classes today?
After students returned from winter break on Monday, Jan. 6, the number of reported teacher absences began to skyrocket, with numbers doubling in just a few days.
We continued to work with our substitute provider, Kelly Educational Services, to ensure we had the maximum substitutes available by offering mileage reimbursement and additional hours of pay for working on Monday.
There were simply not enough substitute teachers to cover all vacancies. By the end of the week, approximately 1,700 teachers indicated they would be absent.
This rapid increase left us with limited time to address these vacancies. However, we reviewed staffing plans school-by-school, and felt confident that we could safely cover absences.
The plan included using a combination of qualified substitutes and certified school-based employees (such as school counselors and media specialists) to cover classrooms, and assigning district staff members to schools to provide additional support. Approximately 30 deputies from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office also assisted in classrooms.
We worked closely with our law enforcement partners to provide additional security on our campuses.
-Why weren’t student absences excused today?
Monday was an atypical day, but classes were not canceled. Our schools were open for students, and our regular attendance policy remained in place.
-Why didn’t PCPS cancel school today?
The decision to cancel classes cannot be taken lightly, as the state requires that students receive a certain number of instructional hours each school year. Amending the school calendar also requires negotiations with the PEA and approval from the School Board. Moreover, we previously closed schools for two days this year in response to Hurricane Dorian. Those factors, combined with the unexpected spike in scheduled absences last week, put us in a position in which closing schools would not have been feasible.
-Why did PCPS contact the Florida Department of Education regarding teachers’ attendance at today’s rally?
A large number of teacher absences on a single day is an unusual situation, and it requires extensive planning.
Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd contacted FDOE to make the department aware of the situation and our plans to cover classrooms, as well as receive guidance from the department.
FDOE’s general counsel sent an e-mail to the superintendent with the intention that the information be shared with PCPS employees. This letter was received late Friday and was forwarded to staff members. The e-mail was forwarded in an effort to be transparent with staff; it was not a threat from the superintendent to fire staff.
-Will any teachers be fired, disciplined or otherwise retaliated against for attending today’s rally?
Absolutely not. No teachers will be fired, disciplined or retaliated against for participating in the rally.
Does PCPS officially support the teachers and employees rallying for higher pay, adequate school funding and better working conditions?
Yes! As public servants we recognize that we all have an obligation to follow the law and carry out our responsibilities to educate and protect students. However, we have long noted that our school district is not being adequately funded in a way that allows us to meet the needs of our students, while also paying our employees respectable wages that keep up with the cost of living.
Every year we actively lobby our lawmakers in an effort to sufficiently fund our schools and staff. We are steadfast in our belief that the children — and teachers — of Polk County and Florida deserve better.