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How many Durham teachers must take a personal day before schools are forced to close?

Teachers rally against high turnover and low pay on the sidewalk in front of Apex High School on May 21, 2014. A new report from the National Education Association estimates that North Carolina is ranked 37th in the U.S. in average teacher pay.
Teachers rally against high turnover and low pay on the sidewalk in front of Apex High School on May 21, 2014. A new report from the National Education Association estimates that North Carolina is ranked 37th in the U.S. in average teacher pay. ehyman@newsobserver.com

Parents with children attending Durham Public Schools might need a Plan B for childcare on May 16, because the school system might be forced to close schools that day. Hundreds of DPS teachers, like thousands from across the state, are expected to take a personal day May 16 to travel to Raleigh to advocate for public education on the General Assembly's opening day.

School board Chairman Mike Lee said DPS leaders are considering closing schools if there are not enough teachers present to provide the supervision needed to operate them safely.

"We're just going to have to shut them down if we get to the point where we cannot safely open them," Lee said.

The Durham Association of Educators estimates that more than 600 of DPS' nearly 2,400 teachers, about 25 percent, have already requested May 16 off.

Lee said he is not yet certain how many teachers will need to request the day off before DPS has to close schools.

"What that threshold is, we're not sure," Lee said.

Bryan Proffitt, president of the DAE, said he believes DPS has already met the threshold. He said the DAE will attend Thursday's school board meeting to ask it to close schools May 16 so that the DAE, parents and others can begin to develop plans to help families care for their children.

"We recognize the inconvenience, particularly for working-class parents, but our bigger concern is the inconvenience that the General Assembly has been imposing on all of us," Proffitt said.

If the school board makes the decision to close schools now, Proffitt said there would be about three weeks left to plan for child care, for feeding children who rely on meals at school and for administering Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests that some students must take on May 16.

"We want to give parents as much lead time as possible and to make sure those tests happen and the district can make up the time missed," Proffitt said. "We want to mitigate as many of the challenges as we can."



Proffitt said educators have been driven to take a personal day off because of the actions of the Republican-led General Assembly, which he contends is trying to dismantle public education.

"We take it personally that they've taken the hardest job on the planet and made it absolutely unsustainable for the majority of those of us who love the profession and our students so deeply," Proffitt said.

As an example, Proffitt pointed to a law passed last year that will take away retirement health care for teachers who enter the profession after 2020.

Meanwhile, some parents have already began to plan for May 16.

Dolly Reaves, a Southwest Elementary School parent, spent Wednesday afternoon asking parents in the carpool lane whether they would need child care help if schools close May 16.

"I just want to make sure if schools close, kids don't go without food and that they have a safe place to be," said Reaves, who plans to help parents with children attending other schools organize similar efforts.

Some parents are also sharing an online survey that asks parents whether they support educators taking a personal day to go to Raleigh to advocate for schools and students, and if they would be willing to get involved by also going to Raleigh on May 16, by donating money, by using social media to get the word out or by participating in various other activities to support the effort.

Reaves said many parents appear supportive of the teachers' decision to use a personal day to advocate for public education.

"I think we have just got to do what we've got to do to make sure teachers can stand up for their rights and that children still get 180 days of instruction," Reaves said.

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