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Pay could be docked for some Philly teachers who protested lack of contract

Philadelphia teachers who took off May 1 in part to protest nearly four years without a contract could have their pay docked for that absence, officials confirmed Friday.

Philadelphia teachers who took off May 1 in part to protest nearly four years without a contract could have their pay docked for that absence, officials confirmed Friday.

About 1,000 School District teachers called out that day, an effort organized by the Caucus of Working Educators, a coalition within the teachers' union.

The principals of at least nine schools were initially told to dock teachers' pay, despite the fact that they put in to use personal time they had earned. Late Friday afternoon, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. called Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan and said he was halting that directive until he could gather more information.

District officials could not say how many teachers might lose pay for the day, but 384 teachers used personal days May 1. At some schools, half or more of the faculty took the day off.

Hundreds of teachers shut down part of North Broad Street that day, marching as a sign of their displeasure with the lack of a contract.

"We are reviewing the situation and will make decisions consistent with the language in the PFT contract which allows for only 10 percent of staff to take a personal day at the same time, and any disruption this protest caused individual schools," district spokesman Kevin Geary said in a statement.

In a letter sent to principals prior to the day of the protests, the district's human resources chief reminded principals that planned absences need to have justifications.

Paid personal days may only be taken "for urgent personal business which cannot be conveniently scheduled on other than workdays and for personal emergencies requiring immediate attention," wrote Louis Bellardine, citing contract language.

The caucus said that 33 schools participated in its "May Day of Advocacy for Philly Schools," and that it had confirmation from employees at nine schools that their principals were ordered to dock their pay prior to Hite's order.

Those schools are Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences, Kensington High School for Creative and Performing Arts, Carver High School, Central High School, The U School, Mifflin Elementary School, Masterman School, William D. Kelley Elementary, and Building 21.

Teachers take personal days by calling in to an automated service; they do not need to cite a reason for using the days when calling in.

Amy Roat, who teaches at Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences, was told by her principal Friday that she and other teachers who took personal days were having the coding changed on their absence to "unapproved day without pay."

Essentially, said Roat, a caucus member, "people will lose one day's pay and then have a meeting with the principal to get scolded."

The PFT did not sponsor protests held during the day or encourage members to call out, but Jordan was unhappy with the punishment threatened.

"It's an overreach," Jordan said. "It's punitive. It's arbitrary."

Earlier in the school year, teachers at some schools used personal days to mark International Women's Day. The majority of faculty called out at Science Leadership Academy and Bayard Taylor Elementary School.

No teachers were penalized for taking that personal day.

Jordan said that if the punishment goes forward, he would be inclined to take action.

"I certainly would file a class-action grievance" on behalf of teachers whose pay will be docked, said Jordan.

Roat said the situation put her principal in an uncomfortable position.

"I know my principal supports advocacy for students and for ourselves," said Roat. "But he has to answer to his boss. It puts the principals in a very ugly situation."

Roat said she had never had to cite a reason for taking a personal day.

"I have complete faith that we're in the right," she said, adding that there was precedent for taking personal days for a protest.