April 17, 2017

State faces suit over absences hurting teachers’ evaluations

Joe Gratz


A teacher from a rural New Mexico school district is suing the state over its policy on teacher absences.

The teacher says the Public Education Department’s policy of punishing teachers on evaluations after their third absence should be changed. PED has since amended that punishment to six school absences per school year.

PED Secretary Hanna Skandera responded to the lawsuit with a very short prepared statement.

“We received the lawsuit,” she said. “It’s being reviewed.”

Skandera and PED are named as defendants in the suit.

Angela Medrow filed the suit in First Judicial District court in Santa Fe earlier this month but is a teacher from Logan Municipal Schools. Medrow is a “Level Three” teacher, the highest level of licensure in the state. She has a master’s degree in education and has taught at the district since the 2004-2005 school year, according to the court filing.

Medrow has used three days of sick leave already. A fourth day of sick leave would mean all four absences count against Medrow’s evaluation. And Medrow knows she will be taking at least five more days of sick leave this year, because she will be having a partial hysterectomy to remove two “large tumors on her uterus.”

Medrow will need to use one sick leave day for pre-surgery testing, and will miss another four days in the final week of school for the surgery itself.

Superintendents are able to determine if extenuating circumstances are applicable to exempt teachers from the limit on days that don’t count toward the evaluation.

The suit argues that sick days are considered property, since they “have a monetary value because teachers continue to receive their salary for each day they are absent from work.”

The lawsuit also quotes Martinez’s veto message on a bill that would have allowed teachers to take ten days of sick leave each year before there was an impact on their evaluations.

The Senate successfully voted to override the veto, but the effort died in the House, with all Republicans voting against the override, even those who sponsored the bill.

Such an effort requires two-thirds of each chamber to vote to override.

Update: Added more information about superintendents’ role.