WRAL Investigates

More than 30 percent of NC public school teachers missed 10 days in 2014

Posted February 9

— Federal data show 34 percent of North Carolina's 96,000 full-time public school teachers missed at least two weeks of classes in a single academic year.

The U.S. Department of Education deems teachers who miss that much time as chronically absent. Statistics from the agency’s Office of Civil Rights show that educator attendance varies from state to state, from district to district and even from school to school.

WRAL Investigates reviewed North Carolina’s data and found that, in the Alamance-Burlington School System, 86 percent of teachers missed 10 or more days of school, according to the most recent data available from 2014, which was released this past summer. The school district says its absenteeism rates are improving. However, more than half the system’s teachers are still chronically absent.

In Wake County, 22 percent of teachers were chronically absent. It was 29 percent in Durham, 25 percent in Cumberland and 70 percent in Robeson County. The data showed charter schools, on average, had lower rates of teacher absenteeism than traditional public schools.

In Wake County, three schools – East Cary Middle, Holly Grove Middle and West Lake Middle – had chronic absentee teacher rates above 50 percent, meaning half of the teachers in those schools missed at least 10 school days. Nine of the top 10 Wake schools with the highest absenteeism were year-round schools.

Five Wake schools reported zero chronic teacher absences – Highcroft Drive Elementary, East Wake School of Health Science, East Wake School of Arts, Education & Global Studies, Wake Early College of Health and Sciences and Richland Creek Elementary.

Wake County provides an incentive for teachers not to use sick days. Teachers can bank them and have them factored into retirement. But other local school systems have different policies.

WRAL Investigates asked to speak with Wake County Public School System teachers or administrators, but the system declined the request.

Find your school: How many teachers were chronically absent?

Search for your school to see how many teachers were chronically absent in 2014, according to the most recent federal data available. This list only includes school districts in and around the Triangle. Nearly 30 percent of the state’s public school teachers missed at least two weeks of classes in 2014. Source: U.S. Department of Education

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Former State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson said the state needs to “look at this issue and find solutions.”

“We know that having teachers chronically absent from the schools does hurt student growth and student achievement, and we must be about helping students,” she said.

However, Atkinson said she wonders about the reliability of school-reported teacher attendance numbers because of varying leave policies. She said she also thinks that the state restricted school calendar that reduces flexibility may be a contributing factor to teacher absences. Still, she says schools must explore reasons why teachers miss.

“I was surprised at the chronic absenteeism rate in many of our schools in North Carolina,” Atkinson said. “We want our schools to be places where our teachers want to come, as well as students.”

Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Moore, is a retired school administrator and said schools needs to educate teachers about how their absences affect children.

“It's alarming to me that you'd have those high a numbers in certain school systems,” Tillman said. “If it's chronic, you've got to deal with it a couple of ways. Tighten the regulations on the excuses. Then, secondly, counsel this teacher to tell them about the damage that's occurring to these students.”

Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, points out that most teachers don't miss class time. He says low pay and high pressure can erode morale and health.

“I think the underlying story here is why we have a teacher shortage,” Jewell said.

“Of course, the big thing is there's a love for learning and children, but that's not enough to keep teachers in the profession,” he added. “You've got to be treated as a professional. You've got to be given quality planning time. You've got to be able to have the resources for your students to be successful.”

After 18 years of teaching, Darren Wellman, an art teacher at Pittsboro Elementary School, said he believes showing up for his students matters.

“I do it because I love what I do,” he said. “In my classroom, they look for me to be there. I think that's very important.”

Wellman said he has never missed 10 or more instructional days in a year and said he believes culture is one reason Chatham County Schools, on the whole, performed well in the education report. Only 4 percent of Chatham teachers were labeled as chronic absentees.

“We know we need to be here, and that starts with the superintendent down,” Wellman said. “When they see us here and ready to go, then they are ready to go. It makes them accountable to be here as well.”


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  • Amanda DiCecco Feb 11, 2017
    user avatar

    As one of the teachers who I am sure was included in the data, does this take into account WHY the teacher was absent? I missed the first nine weeks of school due to maternity leave. Having given birth on the 3rd day of school, it would have been impossible to return immediately. Then since all of the days I had banked for sick/personal leave were taken to provide a paid maternity leave, I had zero days left once I returned to the classroom. Once my newborn was in daycare she inevitably picked up a germ or twenty resulting in me or my husband having to pick her up and take her home. Those days sure count them against me, but did my maternity leave count as a "chronic absence"?

  • Michelle Pettey Feb 11, 2017
    user avatar

    You missed the mark on this one WRAL. If you were trying to make a point that teacher absences affect student performance, that was not my take away. While I definitely agree that it is important for teachers to be on the job, like others have said, ten absences in the course of a school year is not significant. You have no idea WHY teachers might be absent. As pointed out, teachers work at least 8 hours a day. We are confined to the school building during those hours. We do not have a lunch hour or an hour here or there where we can "slip out" for a doctor appointment. When was the last time you tried to get an appointment with a doctor or a devtust after 4:00 p.m.? We cannot control when we are sick; or our children are sick; or when we might need surgery or have a family emergency. We are given sick days just like every other profession and we have a right to use them. If some teachers are abusing their time then their administration should handle that--- not you.

  • Katy Cobb Feb 11, 2017
    user avatar

    I find this article incredibly misleading and the timing of it is beyond interesting. Days after Devos is confirmed an article comes out about public teachers' absences? Come on, WRAL, you have no idea that our day doesn't ever stop when the bell rings; if I take an absence it takes me hours to prepare plans and leave quality work for my students. At the end of the year, my students are forever linked to me through our experiences and also through standardized data. No teacher is trying to be absent because it hurts everyone: student, parent, teacher, school, and district. Zeroing in on the absences of one professional population is just poor journalism. Many people are needed to make the school experience successful for our students; teachers are not solely responsible. WRAL, you should spend time helping to promote the successes of our state's schools, or better yet: volunteering your own time. Behind every absence there is a story and behind every story there is a real person.

  • Cara Hodgkinson-King Feb 10, 2017
    user avatar

    It is important to consider that teachers work Monday-Friday and are required to be there for a MINIMUM of 8 hours. If we need to go to a doctor's appointment, which typically occurs during a school day, we are required to take 1/2 a day off in order to go. We are NOT permitted to take time off when students are in school for anything besides sick time. If we want to take time to do something during times when children are at school, we are required to take a personal day requiring a 5 day request to the principal for pre-approval. If it is approved, we have to have earned the time to take off and it costs us $50. If we are out, for professional leave (workshop) or otherwise, we are required to find subs to fill our positions and provide sub plans and materials. Consider your profession, what amount of preparation goes into you missing a day of work? I HIGHLY doubt teachers are missing work because they don't want to be there. Please do more investigating in your reporting.

  • Paul Cooper Feb 10, 2017
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    This is absolutely not true. No teacher gets three months off...many are not paid for the summer months, and those that are, their salaries are pro-rated for 10 months.

    And the average salary of NC teachers is nowhere close to $50k. That is the MAXIMUM amount many teachers can be paid. Local school districts can supplement the salary, but our fine legislature has capped teacher salary at $50k.

  • Chris Clemmons Feb 10, 2017
    user avatar

    I agree with prior comments that this story is woefully lacking in key information. What were the reasons for these absences? Did they include time for professional development (which we should encourage rather than discourage)? How does this absenteeism rate compare to that of the working population in general? How does it compare to a working population with similar demographics? These are all important questions that could have been addressed in the original article rather than with a follow-up. As it is, it's unnecessarily sensationalistic and disparages ALL teachers.

  • Sara Hauser Feb 10, 2017
    user avatar

    Completely agree with everything Michael Kemmeries said. My daughter is a teacher. They are lucky to get a bathroom break.

  • Michael Kemmeries Feb 10, 2017
    user avatar

    I can see the Women's March accomplished nothing.
    The majority of teachers are females. Females have babies, females use sick leave when they have babies.

  • Michael Kemmeries Feb 10, 2017
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    This is the "real world" and guess what. ALL state employees earn one sick day per month. So, what world are you talking about? Oh yah, Federal and local government employees also earn one sick day a month, that can be rolled over and can be used toward retirement.
    So, again. What "real world" are you talking about.

  • Michael Kemmeries Feb 10, 2017
    user avatar

    Shame on you WRAL for trying to make teachers the public enemy. Maybe the teachers are sick because parents bring their kids to school sick. Maybe teacher are sick because the State of NC did away with teacher assistance and the teachers are over worked. FYI, many teachers do not get lunch breaks.
    WRAL, do you get lunch breaks? WRAL do you work around sick kids all day?