The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing voted yesterday to move ahead with consideration of a new teacher permit that will replace a decades-old permit that limits the amount of time substitutes can fill in for teachers on medical and other legally required leaves.
Those include extended sick leaves, and leaves under laws such as the Pregnancy Disability Leave Act, which allows teachers to take off for up to four months. The Family and Medical Leave Act, the California Family Rights Act and the Industrial Accident and Illness Act also allow teachers to take a leave of up to 12 weeks.
The current permit that has been used to fill these vacancies only allows substitutes to stay in one classroom for up to 30 cumulative school days, and for only 20 days in special education classrooms. In many cases, that has resulted in students being subjected to a series of rotating instructors, with different levels of ability and knowledge of the materials they are supposed to be teaching.
The new Teacher Permit for Statutory Leave, or TPSL, would allow substitute teachers to stay in their positions as long as regular teachers are on temporary leave, but would require school districts to provide them with 45 hours of professional development and training each year, along with an experienced mentor teacher to help them with lesson and curriculum planning.
The credentialing commission approved moving forward to develop the details of the permit before a final public hearing at the commission’s meeting in April. All provisions of the permit will not be completed until after the April meeting, said Charlie Watters, the commission’s director of certification.
At the commission meeting in Sacramento Thursday, the permit received support from several key organizations representing teachers, and school district and county administrators.
Harold Acord, president of the Moreno Valley Education Association, representing the California Teachers Association, said that the new permit will “solve a problem that schools are facing up and down our state.”
“It is a small issue but one that has tremendous ramifications,” said David Simmons, assistant superintendent for personnel services in the Ventura County Office of Education. Simmons, who was representing the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association, said the proposed permit addressed the need to create “a family friendly work place where teachers have rights to go on leave if they have cancer, when they have kids.”
The permit is renewable annually, with unlimited renewals possible. Although voting in favor of the teaching permit, commission member Haydee Rodriguez raised concerns about the renewable provision. She worried about whether that provision would remove incentives for temporary teachers to get their full teaching credentials. “That raises a red flag for me,” she said.
Joseph Aguerrebere, a commission member representing the California State University system, also backed the new permit, which he suggested was a compromise between conflicting needs. “One the one hand, districts need flexibility, but on the other hand we have students in the classroom who only have one shot at it, and they need to have the best possible instructor in front of them while they are there, so it is a balancing act.”
At the same time, he pointed out that the state doesn’t really have any firm data on the extent of the problem, including how many teachers are currently on statutory leave. Going forward, he said, the state would need to engage in “real data gathering and monitoring.”
Under the proposal endorsed by the commission, school districts would have to report to their county offices of education how many of the new permits they issued. The county offices of education in turn would report the data to the credentialing commission.
The only clear opposition came from the Los Angeles Unified School District, by far the state’s largest district. District representatives said they objected to the requirements for training and mentoring that districts would have to provide to get the new permit as excessively onerous. They said a better route would be to allow principals to extend the current emergency permits based on the performance of the 30-day or 20-day substitutes. If the substitutes were doing a good job, they should be able to extend the substitute permit for the duration of a teacher’s leave.
“We don’t believe the TPSL is the solution,” said L.A. Unified representative Luz Ortega. Derek Ramage, another L.A. Unified representative, said that principals in each school site were the best people to determine “who is appropriate for long-term assignments.”
Several speakers at yesterday’s meeting said that the new permit should have a “sunset” provision after a few years, so the commission could examine how it has or hasn’t worked, and to ensure it hadn’t resulted in any number of unintended consequences.
Kathleen Harris, the vice chair of the commission who presided over yesterday’s meeting in the absence of its regular chair, Linda Darling-Hammond, cautioned that the proposal for the new permit “is in no way a fully formed piece of work.”
But, she said, “we are signaling our intention to meet the needs of the field who are suffering under the current rules.”