When Do I Cover for an Absent Colleague?

The PAT Office has received numerous questions about whether or not members must cover class for an absent colleague. 

The answer is in Article 8, Section 7 which states:

Every effort will be made to employ substitute teachers to cover classes of absent teachers. Except in true emergency situations and except as otherwise provided in 8.7.2, professional educators shall not be required to substitute for other professional educators.

What constitutes a “true emergency”?  In discussions with the District we’ve agree that an emergency is understood to be an unforeseeable circumstance, such as a colleague having a medical emergency while at work, that creates an uncovered class. 

An unfilled absence is not an “emergency,” and in those cases covering for an absent colleague is voluntary. 

PAT has worked hard to reduce the disruptions caused by unfilled absences. For example, in our Certified Teacher contract we allowed the District to create up to fifteen “Site Support Instructor (SSI)” positions for buildings that have a high percentage of unfilled substitute slots. It appears, however, that PPS has only filled a handful of these positions.  In addition, in our Substitute Teacher contract we allowed PPS to provide specific training to assist substitutes who work in buildings with specific needs/programs in the hopes this would increase the likelihood of substitutes accepting certain jobs. We also gave the District the option to offer incentive pay to substitutes who work in buildings with a high percentage of unfilled jobs.

PPS has decided to not fill all of the SSI positions, has decided it does not need to offer incentive pay, and has so far decided that it does not need to provide specific training to substitutes.  It is impossible for PPS to claim that an unfilled absence constitutes an emergency when the District refuses to take advantage of opportunities allowed by the two contracts.

Finally, our contract states that educators shall receive daily planning periods in high school and middle school, and in elementary schools daily planning time and 320 minutes per week of planning time.  Any member who is asked to cover class for an absent colleague should ask when the planning time will be made up that same day. If daily planning time is not provided, a member should submit for pay the minutes of lost planning time.

If you are asked to cover a class, and you are willing to volunteer that is fine.  However, you must be paid for lost planning time if you do.  If you do not want to cover the class, then you do not have to volunteer.  Students must have a licensed adult directing a class, but that can be the building administrator. 

If you are directed to cover the class, inform your building rep and PAT will evaluate the situation to determine if a grievance should be filed.