Absences by Baltimore County teachers surged 150 percent yesterday as they staged a sickout to protest newly announced furloughs. The action left some school administrators scrambling to cover classes and ensure that instruction continued normally.
About 500 teachers called in sick or took a personal business day, school officials said. Usually, about 200 teachers each day take time off for illness or personal business.
The sickout calls were concentrated in five high schools and two middle schools, with the rest spread pretty evenly throughout the system, said school spokesman Richard E. Bavaria.
At most elementary schools, the entire faculty reported for work.
The high schools with the most teachers absent were: Perry Hall, 36; Parkville, 35; Woodlawn, 28; and Overlea, 23. At Dulaney High School, 21 teachers from the 100-member faculty called in sick, said Principal Thomas R. Hensley.
Johnnycake Middle School in Westview had 28 teachers absent and Sparrows Point Middle School was missing 19 teachers.
"This is a very emotional time for everyone in the school system. Teachers are upset because of the furloughs," Mr. Bavaria said. "I think teachers are feeling they need to send a message to the public and to fiscal authorities that business is not as usual in the school system."
No classes were canceled and no students were sent home early yesterday, Mr. Bavaria said. Substitutes, parents and school administrators covered some classes; others had to be combined and met in auditoriums and gymnasiums.
At Johnnycake Middle School, an assistant principal and a guidance counselor taught physical education, said Principal Ralph B. Wood. Everything went smoothly, he said, but the students probably didn't learn "the same they would have if their regular teachers were here."
Earlier this month, reacting to a $7.8 million cut in the department's budget, Superintendent Robert Y. Dubel announced that school employees who work 10 months will have to put in four days without pay, and 12-month employees will have to work for five unpaid days.
Teachers are especially angry because the unpaid work days have been scheduled during times they would normally be working at school when students have time off. The sickout was not initiated or condoned by the Teachers Association of Baltimore County.
Edward W. Veit, president of TABCO said the union "has not advised nor encouraged our members to engage in work stoppage.
"If, however, teachers have reached this level of frustration leading them to take this action, we can understand their need," he said.
Teachers who took part in the sickout said they hoped to focus public attention on what they charge is an unfair policy. "If the public doesn't feel the pain, then the government will come back for furloughs whenever they need a few bucks," said Kenneth J. Shapiro, a guidance counselor at Hillendale Elementary School.
At Pinewood Elementary, sympathetic parents stood in the cold outside the school Monday morning and yesterday, holding placards supporting the teachers.
But not all parents agreed.
"I think that the teachers are being very unfair," said Patricia Bauer, who has a son in the fourth grade at Stoneleigh Elementary School. "This is a bit much for four days."