LAFAYETTE — The Lafayette Parish school system reported an “unusually high” number of teacher absences Wednesday with 175 teachers out on the same day teachers rallied at the Capitol for the House Education committee’s review of education reform bills, school officials said.
The school system employs about 2,400 teachers; data on average daily absences was unavailable Wednesday afternoon. It was also unknown how many of the absences were related to the rally.
Lafayette High logged the majority of the absences with 57 instructional staff out for the day — creating a “fiasco” at the district’s largest high school when only 25 substitute teachers could be found, Lafayette Parish Schools Superintendent Pat Cooper said.
Only 37 of the absences at Lafayette High were logged as personal leave, he said.
The school had to postpone end-of-course testing due to the excessive absences, Cooper said. Smaller classes were combined and large class sessions were held in the auditorium, according to a news release from the school district.
Cooper criticized the Louisiana Association of Educators’ leadership for the large number of absences at Lafayette High.
“They could have orchestrated this better,” Cooper said. “We’re all in favor of teachers having a voice, but as much time as they spend on the board floor talking about how face time with students is important, today, their actions didn’t follow their word.”
Karen Martin, president of the Lafayette Parish chapter of the Louisiana Association of Educators, said she took a personal day Wednesday to attend committee meetings in Baton Rouge. She defended the choice other teachers made to rally at the Capitol.
“When we as our organization asks our teachers to rally, it is completely up to them,” Martin said. “That is not in anybody’s control other than those teachers who decided to come.”
Martin said she contacted Cooper on Saturday when she learned the committee was scheduled to meet Wednesday. She said Cooper advised that teachers can take a personal day to attend the meetings.
On Tuesday, Cooper issued a statement about the expected teacher attendance at Wednesday’s rally and said that “valuable instruction” time would not be lost.
In the statement, he also advised that he and the school system “support every teacher’s right to voice their opinion, and those who wish to attend the rally may use a personal leave day to do so.”
Cooper said Wednesday he didn’t fault teachers for attending the rally.
However, he said he would have preferred it if the organization had chosen a few teacher representatives from each school to prevent excessive absences from occurring at any one school.
Martin said Cooper did not propose any limitations on teacher attendance at the rally during their conversation Saturday.
No other major absences were reported at other schools, Cooper said.