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Despite rumored threat of ‘sick out’, Shelby County teachers still report to work

A postcard Democracy Prep sent out inviting other schools and parents to their Harlem Armory inauguration party.
Several Shelby County School teachers attended the August board meeting to protest changes to the evaluation process, lack of pay increases and the displacement of tenured teachers affected by job cuts and school closures. (August 26, 2014)
Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN

Not since the late 1970s have teachers in Shelby County gone on strike, but faced with a fourth-consecutive year without salary increases and a more stringent evaluation, there’s talk that some educators could plan a ‘sick out–masses of teachers simultaneously calling in sick.

It’s illegal for Tennessee teachers to strike.

On Wednesday, the district’s communications department released a statement to the media that there had not been an increase in teacher absences. The district declined to make any further statement on the issue.

“That’s not best for kids and it creates a situation that’s not stable (with) a bunch of subs coming in,” said Dorsey Hopson, the district’s superintendent.

During Tuesday night’s meeting, several teachers, some visibly angry, protested pay, insurance, evaluation and the treatment of displaced teachers who lost their jobs due to staff cuts or school closures.

Ken Foster, the executive director of the Memphis-Shelby County Education Association, said the board and the superintendent needed to hear the teachers’ voices.

“They need to know that teachers aren’t very happy,” Foster said. “And seemingly the superintendent and the school board want to gloss over the issues and don’t want to admit there are problems. We’ve been trying to tell them, but it’s been falling on deaf ears.”

Foster said the association is not organizing the rumored teacher sick out.

“The ‘sick out’ idea did not originate from this office and will not be coordinated from MSCEA,” he said.

This summer, hundreds of firefighters and police officers called in sick to protest cuts to their health insurance policies and retirement benefits.

In a letter to district teachers dated August 22, Hopson said he plans to maintain a two-way dialogue with teachers to support them and their schools. He also touted the bonuses, which will be paid in October. Hopson said that for a large number of teachers, the bonuses would be more than a traditional annual pay increase. But he did not say he would change the amount teachers will receive.

On the issue of the revised teacher evaluation, Hopson said he plans to meet with teachers on Sept. 4 to hear their concerns.

Read Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson II’s August 22 letter to teachers:

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