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GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) – This Friday is a blackout date for Guilford County Schools employees who planned to have the day off. 

On Monday, the human resources department informed all 9,800 employees they need to be at work on Oct. 29, even if their time off was previously approved. 

There are exceptions for previously approved medical leave with a doctor’s note.  

The e-mail GCS employees received Monday.

It comes as the school district struggles to fill the need for hundreds of substitutes while teachers are out on vacation, personal or sick leave. 

“I don’t think we’ve ever experienced before,” said Nina Sumpter, a high school math teacher. “In 16 years, I do not remember receiving an e-mail that this is a blackout date.” 

Employees told FOX8 they were puzzled to find out they cannot use their vacation or personal time on Friday, even if there were substitutes scheduled. 

“There could’ve been deaths in the family,” Sumpter said. “There could’ve been anything going on and we just rescinded it for all.” 

The e-mail cites an “extreme shortage of available substitutes” behind the move. 

According to GCS Director of Communications Wanda Edwards, on average, the district gets 289 requests for substitutes per day, but only fulfills 162 of them. 

Whenever Sumpter asks for time off she said she always has one ready to take her place. “It just made it seem more of a punitive thing versus a ‘hey guys, you’ve got to work with us, let’s work something out,'” she said. 

Edwards told FOX8 historically around 1,000 GCS employees request off or call out ahead of North Carolina A&T’s homecoming, often called the “Greatest Homecoming On Earth,” which is this weekend. “Everyone that’s off is not going to celebrate North Carolina A&T’s homecoming and everyone is not an alumni like I am,” Sumpter said. 

A GCS employee who did not want to share their identity for fear of losing their job told FOX8 they had Friday off for a planned trip, until now. 

“It’s a tough decision to make especially when it comes to choosing between your job and a commitment you made to your family,” the employee said.

She’s in a role that doesn’t need a substitute.   

“This has to affect many families, not only families who have already planned to go out of town for different reasons,” she said. “I mean families who may have flights, hotels, we can’t just cancel all that a few days before.” 

The trip she planned months ago is in limbo. She could lose out on hundreds of dollars. She hopes the district will work it out and give employees greater notice than four days next time.  

“I don’t know how anyone’s going to make plans moving forward because we’re not sure if this is going to happen again,” she said. 

Sumpter recommended the district look at changing teacher workdays or fall break during the week of Oct. 25, especially if there are many leave requests or expected call-outs.

“I think getting ahead of that should’ve happened a couple of months ago” Sumpter said. “I think we could’ve thought about this a little bit earlier to give people plans.”