Logan teacher files suit against state
April 19, 2017 | View PDF
A class action lawsuit has been filed by a Logan School teacher against the New Mexico Public Education Department regarding the law that punishes teachers for using sick and personal leave.
Hanna Skandera, New Mexico secretary of education, confirmed Monday that her department has received the suit and is reviewing it but offered no further comment.
The class action suit was filed on March 30 in the First District Court in Santa Fe on behalf of Angela Medrow and all teachers in the state, said Logan attorney Warren Frost, who is representing Medrow.
“The state is taking teachers’ sick leave for their own benefit to save money, while not compensating them for it,” Frost said. “This action violates the New Mexico Constitution.”
The long-contested system allows teachers only three sick days before they are docked 10 points on their evaluation, with 50 percent of the evaluation being based on student performances on standardized tests.
Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed House Bill 241 last month, which would have allowed teachers to take more than three days of annual sick leave without being hurt on performance evaluations. Martinez said the bill threatened to reverse recent reductions in teacher absentee rates and to increase the use of substitutes in classrooms, which would compromise school budgets and academic performance.
A veto override initiated by Sen. Craig Brandt failed to collect enough votes.
The bill would have added language to the School Personnel Act that would prevent teacher sick or personal leave days from negatively affecting their annual performance evaluations, allowing teachers to use 10 days of sick leave.
Martinez announced on April 3 that her administration would make changes to the teacher evaluation system where a teacher could miss six days instead of three, and student scores would now count for 35 percent of the evaluations.
“We’ve earned those days; the whole issue is insulting,” Medrow said. “They should value teachers more.”
She said the issue with the sick and personal leave raises a health concern for teachers and the students, because teachers are inclined to come to school even when sick.
Frost said the injunction being sought is not just for Medrow but for all New Mexico school teachers who have been and continued to be punished by the PED for using their sick leave and personal leave.
“These teachers have a contractual right to their sick and personal leave,” Frost said. “New Mexico’s current evaluation system punishes them and takes points away if they use their leave.”
Teachers that use their six-day leave are placed in danger of negative impact if they miss any more days, Medrow said, and they don’t know what is going to happen for the rest of the year. Sick or personal days could also be needed to care for a sick child, spouse or parent, she added.
"Teachers serve in one of the most stressful jobs, and it's made harder by the administrative sick leave penalty that does not improve student success,” Betty Patterson, National Education Association-New Mexico president and a special education teacher said in a press release. “It remains wrong to devalue teaching done when an educator is healthy simply because, like other human beings, they or their own children may be sick from time-to-time,” Patterson said. “Whether it is three or six days of sick leave being used in evaluation, it is punitive and demoralizing.”
Frost said there are five levels in the teacher evaluation system, if a teacher is in the top three levels, they are fine but should a teacher fall into the bottom two levels because of docked points for missed days and their students’ performance is not satisfactory, they are fired.
“Those 10 points can make a lot of difference in a teacher’s evaluation and having or not having a job,” Frost said. “With the (governor’s) veto the state is saying if teachers use the benefits they are contractually guaranteed, they will be punished for it.”