Valley Teacher Absences - Part 1 of 2

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We asked for records from school districts in Fresno, Clovis, Madera, and Visalia but only Fresno Unified and Clovis Unified keep detailed records of the number of substitutes they use. Only Fresno Unified breaks down the numbers by school.

What we found in Fresno and Clovis is an obvious pattern of students in classes with subs on Fridays. It's Friday in Fresno Unified and school is letting out. The kids are going home, but if it's a typical Friday, a lot of their teachers have already started their weekend by calling in sick.

Our analysis found Fridays are by far the most popular days for teachers to ditch class. Let's do the math: Fresno Unified was missing an average of 423 regular teachers every Friday 35 more than Wednesdays, the next most common day to skip. Surprisingly, teachers didn't extend their weekends by missing Mondays.

The numbers of subs peaked at 499 on the last Friday of November, the week after Thanksgiving. And the top five most missed days are all Fridays, a fact that surprised many Fresno parents. "I didn't realize there was that many substitute teachers," said one parent. "Sounds to me like we have some teachers who would like to have 3-day weekends," said another. And a third parent said, "That is a major concern. And why?" It's relatively easy for teachers to call in sick. In Fresno Unified, they don't talk to their principal. They call a computerized system. They get 10 sick days every year, and they can call in sick five days in a row without needing a doctor's note. Even fellow teachers know that sometimes, their co-workers are calling in sick for a so-called "mental health day." "Some teachers just get discouraged and they're really not sick," said teacher Fresno Unified teacher Len Barton. "They just want some time off." "I'm sure there's, from time to time, there can be an abuse of the system by someone, but overall teachers I know are dedicated and they're every day working," said Fresno Teachers Association president Larry Moore.

A recent Harvard study shows students are suffering on standardized tests when their teachers are out of the classroom. While Fresno Unified has disciplined some teachers for too many absences, teachers don't shoulder all the blame for missing class. The school district often pulls them out for training or meetings, especially on Fridays. Fresno Unified administrators are trying to change that by next school year. "We really started to look collectively at how we can be more strategic with the goal of leaving the regular teacher in the classroom as much as possible," said Kim Mecum, Fresno Unified's associate superintendent for human resources.

But sometimes, the number of call-ins is too eyepopping to ignore. For example, 15 Fresno High School teachers, one out of every nine, called in sick or took personal days on Friday, Oct. 26. That same week, only two called in on Monday the 22nd, the day Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton held a rally at the school. In fact, Fresno High teachers called in for sick days or personal days 133 times in October. That's about one sick day for every teacher. And the kids notice. "They're probably out partying or something; having fun on Friday," said Fresno High School student Mike Lucero. "I wish I could do that."

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