Q: One of my high school teachers has requested a half-day of personal leave on the first day of school. Her request said that her only child is starting kindergarten on the same day and she would like to drop her off with her husband (missing only the first half of the day). She also stated that she does not have any "core" classes until the afternoon, just an elective class and her planning/prep period. We need all hands on deck on the first day and I can't afford not to have her there in the morning... can I deny this request even if she has days available?
A: Likely, yes. As long as your local leave policy either restricts use of leave on the first day of school, or reserves some administrator discretion in approval/denial, you can deny the teacher's request for leave.
Texas law entitles your employees to 5 days of state “personal leave” per year. Personal leave is just that - it is personal to each employee and a district may not restrict the reasons for taking personal leave, or even ask why the employee needs it. While a district cannot limit the reasons an employee may use their personal leave, it can limit the amount, dates and time that an employee may use leave. Personal leave can either be non-discretionary (similar to old sick leave, in that it is unexpected) or discretionary (leave for any other purpose - vacation, personal business, etc.). In this instance, we are dealing with discretionary personal leave.
Most all board policies at DEC (LOCAL) provide some limiting language for an employee’s use of discretionary personal leave. Some policies go as far as to specifically list out the days, by date, on which personal leave cannot be used. Common examples include state testing days, the days before/after school holidays, staff development days, and (importantly) the first day of instruction in a school year. Some limit the percentage of staff that can be absent on campus or in any department on a given day. If your policy has this language, you should deny the employee’s request in order to be consistent with your policy.
On the other hand, some policies provide more vague limitation language when it comes to an employee’s use of discretionary personal leave, leaving the decision to the discretion of the supervisor. A typical provision may state:
"In deciding whether to approve or deny state personal leave, the supervisor or designee shall not seek or consider the reasons for which an employee requests to use leave. The supervisor or designee shall, however, consider the effect of the employee’s absence on the educational program or District operations, as well as the availability of substitutes."
In the event your district has the foregoing language, it would be appropriate to consider the effect of the teacher’s absence on the educational program (why should kids start their first day of school with a sub, regardless of core or elective class?), as well as the effect on District operations (do you need the teacher outside directing the car or bus drop off line?) Under this limiting language, the discretion rests with the supervisor to determine if the employee’s absence will be detrimental to the work or educational environment. Keep in mind, though, that a denial of one employee’s request because it is the first day of instruction should result in a denial of all similar requests. Any inconsistency could result in a challenge due to the disparate treatment of the employees.