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Are Teacher Sick Days 'Overused'?

In response to a national report on teacher absences, columnist Dan Rodricks of The Baltimore Sun wrote that he was dismayed to learn that 35 percent of teachers in Maryland missed 10 or more days of school in the 2009-10 school year.

"I'm a union man, but I'll tell you one thing: The men and women who fought for and won sick-day privileges for teachers did not think there would be this kind of abuse of the privilege," wrote Rodricks.

However, he also acknowledged that teachers have "stressful jobs and that they work in an environment with lots of germs." According to a University of Michigan study, a third of parents say they're concerned about losing their jobs when they take off work to care for a sick child. Rodricks admitted that constantly working with sick kids may cause teachers to get sick more often than other people. But, he said, 35 percent is too high. "Teacher absences at this rate must affect learning, and we can't afford to lose any ground," wrote Rodricks.

In a separate opinion piece for the Sun, Jill McGuirk, a school nurse in the city, argued that Rodricks did not take into consideration that most educators are women, and that many of them have to use their sick days for maternity leave. Also, she said, single-parent teachers do not have a support system and therefore have no one to help them with child responsibilities. Moreover, McGuirk explained that she often has to call students' parents who sent their sick kids to school to ask them to bring them home—which sometimes requires faxing a letter to the parent's boss asking that the parent be excused from work. "What would help with the problem of the 'overuse' of sick time?" asked McGuirk. "Allowing all workers at every pay level to have personal and family sick days so that sick children don't have to come to school."

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