Bryan Spencer, a Republican elementary school teacher recently elected to the state legislature in Missouri, is blasting the Francis Howell School Board for denying his request for an unpaid leave of absence while simultaneously affording liberal teachers the opportunity to take time away from work.
Other teachers are routinely granted unpaid leaves to engage in political activism on behalf of teachers unions, Spencer says. Two teachers who serve as leaders of the Missouri National Education Association — a teachers union — regularly receive approval from the board to pursue a political agenda that usually aligns with the Democratic Party.
Spencer did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the school board should treat him the same as any other teacher, irrespective of political differences.
“I’m asking for the same treatment those people received,” he said.
Spencer, a 22-year teaching veteran, was under no illusion that he could keep his current teaching job following his election. But an unpaid leave of absence would have given him better odds of finding another teaching job in the district after his term in the legislature ends.
The board twice denied his request. The second denial came after Spencer explicitly pointed out the alleged double standard concerning union officials.
School Board President Marty Hodits defended the 5-2 decision to reject Spencer’s request on the grounds that his role in the legislature would not permit him to be a full-time advocate for education—unlike Chris Gunther and Anita Miller, the two teachers in leadership positions at the MNEA. Gunther, who serves as president of the MNEA, has been granted multiple unpaid leaves since 2001.
“The decision was do you let somebody test-drive a new job as long as they want and disrupt the education of students and then allow them back into the classroom,” said Hodits in a public statement concerning the board’s denial of Spencer’s request.
Hodits did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Spencer plans to take up education issues while serving in the legislature. He was already appointed to a committee on education spending.
Jon Bennett, chairman of the Missouri GOP, said the board’s decision was not in the best interests of Spencer or the district.
“It would be wise on the part of the school district to make sure they have a support base in the Legislature,” he said.
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