Teachers are full-time employees after all. So says Fifth Circuit Judge Richard A. Sommers in reversing a child support decision.
Recall that last summer, child support referee Forrest C. Allred reduced the child support payment that Holgate Middle School teacher/librarian Brandi Swalve receives from her ex-husband Brent Trapp. At the time, Swalve held two part-time jobs in addition to her teaching position. South Dakota law exempts second-job income from child support calculations if a parent holds a full-time job. The Aberdeen School District certainly considers Swalve full-time, but Allred calculated that Swalve’s teaching contract hours over nine months are a couple hundred hours shy of the 2,080 hour equivalent of working 40 hours a week for 52 weeks a year. He thus concluded that teaching is a part-time gig, that Swalve’s side jobs count toward child support, and that her ex need pay her less.
Judge Sommers rejects Allred’s purely mathematical approach:
There is no one definition of “full-time” in our statutes. On one hand, SDCL 2-14-2(12) provides that a full-time equivalent is equal to the number of days, Monday through Friday, in a fiscal year, multiplied by eight hours per day. On the other hand, SDCL 3-12-47(65) defines a permanent full-time employee as one who is customarily employed by a state employer for twenty hours or more a week and at least six months a year and that the employer shall decide if an employee is a permanent full-time employee and that decision is conclusive.
…In the instant case, the school district’s classification of full-time employment was based on SDCL 3-12-47(65). The employment contract only requires the teacher to work eight hours per day for 182 days each school year. That is a regular schedule for a teacher. However, this Court has no doubt that many more hours are spent by any teacher during the evening or on weekends thinking about and preparing for classes. No teacher simply turns off at the close of the school day. That is one of the reasons the employment contract is an annual contract with a minimum number of hours established [Judge Richard A. Sommers, ruling in Trapp v. Swalve DIV 02-711, 2016.11.30].
Judge Sommers recognizes that deeming all teachers part-time is a bad idea:
If this Court were to uphold the referee, no teacher would ever be considered a full-time employee. That would be an unjust result and one that is not practical under the law [Sommers, 2016.11.30].
The Governor’s Child Support Commission has taken public comment on Swalve’s case and, according to meeting notes from September 21, may propose an amendment to our child support statutes to more clearly define full-time employment for calculating separated parents’ financial obligations to their children. But as it stands now, Judge Sommers confirms what all of us in education understand: teaching is a full-time job.