12/11/2012 12:05 pm ET

Michigan Teachers Join Right-To-Work Protests, School Districts Forced To Shut Down

Several Michigan school districts are closed Tuesday as teachers called in sick or took a vacation day to protest proposed right-to-work legislation that pass the state legislature last week.

The "sick outs" have caused district-wide closures across Warren Consolidated Schools, Taylor School District and Fitzgerald Public Schools. According to Michigan Capitol Confidential, a publication by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a right-wing think tank in the state, the closures affect at least 26,000 students.

"While I understand this is somewhat unusual, my number one priority is student safety and without an adequate number of staff members, we cannot hold school," Warren Superintendent Robert Livernois said in a statement, according to WDIV.

A large number of teachers are also likely absent from schools in Detroit, according to the Detroit Free Press, and St. Johns, according to CapCon, as they head to Lansing to rally against the right-to-work bill.

Michigan's right-to-work legislation would ban automatic payroll deductions of union dues, essentially allowing teachers to work without joining the union. Supporters say those who don't want to belong to a union shouldn't be forced to pay dues, while opponents argue that non-payers will glean unionized workplace advantages without paying their share.

President Barack Obama, in Michigan Monday, blasted the legislation as more political than economical, calling it, "giving you the right to work for less money."

Michigan's Republican governor, Rick Snyder, however, has pledged to sign the measure into law, and on Tuesday criticized the teacher protests.

"Too often the education system's all about the adults," Snyder told Fox News. "To see schools shutting down because of an issue like this is not appropriate in my view. This is about giving workers the freedom to choose whether their resources go to a union or not -- and I actually don't view this as anti-union."

Union members disagreed. Thousands gathered at the Michigan Capitol building Tuesday morning in protest, including teachers like Renee Theisen, whose Warren school district was one of those closed due to a teacher shortage. Theisen told the Free Press that she's in Lansing to voice her opinion, adding, "This is important to us to belong to a union, and we want to keep it that way."

Warren school board member Ben Lazarus told CapCon that he believes the district made the right call to close schools, but teachers acted poorly in choosing a "sick out" as a way of addressing the right-to-work legislation.

"I think the superintendent made the best decision with the facts available," Lazarus said. "I do understand that [teachers] have a political position, [but] the first priority of a teacher should be student learning and I don't think this adds to that."

Meanwhile, parents are scrambling to find alternative care or programs for their children, and students will still have to make up for lost time. Weather-related make-up days and modifying school days to account for lost hours also affect family schedules and arrangements, as well as school sports and after-school activities.

While short-term school closings have a substantially smaller impact on student learning than learning loss generally experienced during longer breaks, missing just a few days of the regular school year means falling behind on preparations for state standardized exams -- tests that often factor into a student's eligibility to be promoted, a teacher's evaluation, a school's overall score and funding it can receive from the state.

Just a series of delayed openings and early dismissals from a snow storm last January led to midterm exam cancellations in Monroe, Conn. The tests became optional for those who wanted the scores to be factored into their final grades.