Teachers unions outraged after Tomblin vetoes planning period bill

Officials from West Virginia’s teachers unions are outraged after Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed a bill that would have given teachers more control over how they spend their planning periods.

Christine Campbell, president of the state’s branch of the American Federation of Teachers, said with the adoption of Common Core standards and new standardized testing, teachers will need to have a say more than ever in how they spend their designated time for instruction prep time -- especially because their workload is increasing.

“It should be my right as a professional to determine how I utilize each of those 40 minutes I get every day,” Campbell said. “The teachers know what they need to be doing, but they don’t have the voice to say it. This bill actually provided them a voice to say, ‘I need to do this for my kids.

“This bill strengthens the current language that says [teachers] can’t always be assigned duties on their planning time,” she said.

Campbell said the AFT has pushed for giving teachers more autonomy over their planning periods for years because the language of the current state code doesn’t safeguard teachers against being instructed by administrators to perform other school duties during that time. SB477 would’ve provided clarification and prevented school principals and superintendents from abusing planning periods.

Hundreds of letters, emails and calls to Tomblin -- who vetoed SB477 on Tuesday night -- in addition to thousands of petition signatures were made in support of the bill, Campbell said.

“We really believed this was an opportunity to empower teachers to utilize their prep time to best meet the needs of all their students. And by vetoing this bill, it disregards their input,” she said. “We keep increasing the expectations on effective instruction and improving student learning, yet we don’t ensure that the teachers have that time to do that.”

The bill passed the House and the Senate during this past legislative session with an overwhelming majority and little push-back -- that’s the worst part, said Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association.

“It’s just really, really disturbing for me,” Lee said. “We drafted the legislation in an attempt to clarify the language to stop abuses, but evidently, the governor doesn’t understand the importance of planning periods to the quality of the education our students receive. Now we will just have to make sure teachers stand up for their rights and deal with the abuses individually.”

Tomblin said he supports planning periods but that the bill would have hampered collaboration between teachers and principals. Tomblin also said the bill would impose additional costs, Lee said.

“I totally disagree with that. I don’t think it would be any cost -- it’s just clarifying the language,” he said. “How can you talk about cost? How can the state board talk about cost when they’re hiring an outside [superintendent search] firm, an attorney and three staff people? How can they talk about the cost of a planning period?”

Reach staff writer Mackenzie Mays at 304-348-4814 or at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com

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