Durham to hold education rally, teacher ‘walk-in’

Nov. 01, 2013 @ 03:42 PM

NOTE: Rally has been postponed because of inclement weather. See full story on our home page.

Even as Republican legislators push back against Monday’s planned “walk-ins” by teachers in some of the state’s school districts, local teachers and schools are moving ahead with a series of events in support of the movement to protest state budget cuts to public schools.
At Durham School of the Arts (DSA) this afternoon, teachers, students and others supporters dressed in red and carrying signs will gather in the front yard of the school’s Carr Building at 4 p.m., to prepare for a march to the CCB Plaza downtown for a districtwide “Pep Rally for Education” that will begin at 4:30 p.m. 
Once there, they will join others from the Durham Public Schools for music, poems and speeches from a long list of supporters that includes State Rep. Paul Luebke, D-District 30.
“The state Legislature has been drastically cutting the budget for education and making policy changes that are going to damage education for years to come,” said Marty Gensemer-Ramirez, an English as a second language teacher Durham Association of Education representative at DSA.
The pep rally (the organizers – the DAE and Durham People’s Alliance -- hope the rain in the forecast holds off) comes in advance of the teacher “walk-in” taking place Monday at several Durham schools, as well as in other school districts across the state.
State Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-District 20, who helped to integrate Durham’s public schools in 1964, will be the guest speaker for DSA’s “walk-in,” which will start at 8 a.m., in front of Weaver Auditorium.
Hillside High has also planned an event, as well as Rogers-Herr Middle School where teachers, students, parents and other supporters have been asked to arrive at school at 7 a.m., wearing red and to attend a 2:45 p.m. session in the school’s cafeteria to discuss the state of North Carolina’s public schools.  
The idea of a “walk-in” began as a “walk-out” in September to protest low pay and working conditions.
But the educators organizing the event on a website quickly realized that teachers in North Carolina are prohibited by law from striking.
In recent days, two Republican lawmakers, Sen. Neal Hunt, R-District 15, and Senate leader Phil Berger have questioned whether it’s appropriate for teachers to hold what they contend amount to political events in public schools.  
The two got involved after a parent in Raleigh complained that her child’s school was holding a “walk-in” during school hours.
Durham officials said most “walk-in” events in Durham will be held either before or after school.
“It kind of varies from school to school when they’re planning their event,” said Andrea Underwood, president of the Durham Association of Educators. “There will not be any lost instructional time. There will be lesson plans in every classroom for students to engage in learning.”
Underwood bristled at the notion that the “walk-ins” are political, favoring one party over another.
“I don’t think it’s political at all,” Underwood said. “It’s about people coming together to have a dialogue about what’s happening in our schools. I think it’s convenient for people to say it’s political. If you have an agenda, then I guess you would say it’s political.” 
School board chairwoman Heidi Carter, who will attend a “walk-in” event at E.K. Powe Elementary School on Monday, said she is confident the events will be conducted in a nonpartisan manner.
“I might be concerned if I believed these events in Durham are being organized in such a way to promote one political view over another,” said Carter, pointing out that the E.K. Powe event is taking place before school begins.
Meanwhile, Gensemer-Ramirez said the event may be political, but not partisan.
“This not coming from the Democratic Party or any Democratic political candidate,” Gensemer-Ramirez said. “If you’re not in support of public education, then you’re lining yourself up against public school teachers.”