The El Campo ISD school board discussed changes to local policy on teachers’ paid leave during their October monthly meeting, and although no action was taken on the issue, multiple members indicated they’d be open to amending the policy in the future.

The current DEC local policy on teacher leave limits the days teachers are allowed to use their discretionary days while Texas education code dictates non-discretionary leave.

Teachers are not allowed to use a discretionary day, which is paid leave, on specific “blackout days” throughout the year, causing teachers in the district to express concerns.

“If someone has a wedding they have to go to, as administrators we’re not allowed to ask the employee why they need to take that day off,” Superintendent Bob Callaghan said at the meeting. “Some of us might want to rank a reason an employee chooses to use discretionary leave, (but) the Texas Education code does not allow us that freedom.”

Blackout days at ECISD are the day before or after a holiday or the day of students’ state assessments. If a teacher would like to attend an event that falls on a blackout day, administrators do not currently have the power to authorize discretionary leave that day or to prioritize requests, Callaghan said.

“Non-discretionary is defined by the Texas education code and discretionary is up to the employee,” he added. “The school district is not allowed to ask an employee what their reason is for taking discretionary leave.”

Discretionary leave and non-discretionary leave have different rules as far as reasons why they can be used. For discretionary leave, the choice of why the day can be used is up to the teacher. Non-discretionary days can only be used for specific reasons, such as illness or a death in the family.

Administrators first brought up the current policy on discretionary leave at the July board meeting due to questions from employees. No action was taken on the policy in July, and the last time action was taken on the policy was in Sept. 2019.

Board President James Russell and board member Susan Nohavitza expressed interest in discussing amendments to the policy.

“I do feel that it’s something that needs to be looked at,” Nohavitza said. “We have teachers out there working way too hard, putting in many, many, many hours of overtime.”

The board did not take action on the DEC local policy, instead asking district administrators and campus principals to create a solution to present to the board.

“It needs to come from the principals,” Russell said. “I think we’re happy to hear reasons to amend it, but I think the solutions need to come from that level.”

Before producing a recommendation, administrators will gather input from teachers, Callaghan said. 

“I think the teachers need to understand the ramifications of discretionary leave and what it can do to our abilities to instruct students,” he added.

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