With several Durham educators looking on, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board on Thursday canceled class for May 16 so teachers can travel to Raleigh to advocate for better pay and working conditions.
The unanimous vote by the school board made Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools the second local school district to cancel classes on May 16, which is the General Assembly's opening day. May 16 will be an optional work day for teachers in the district.
On Wednesday, the Durham school board became the first district to make May 16 an optional teacher work day after more than 1,000 teachers requested a personal day to answer the call of the N.C. Association of Educators, a statewide teacher advocacy group, which has asked teachers from across the state to travel to Raleigh to demand that lawmakers do better by teachers and students.
In Chapel Hill, 292 of the district's nearly 1,200 teachers had requested May 16 off by the end of the school day, and more are expected to do so in the coming days.
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Meanwhile, in Orange County Schools, only 18 teachers had requested May 16 off by late Wednesday afternoon, accord to OCS spokesman Seth Stephens. But Stephens said that number is expected to climb by next week as teachers approach the deadline for lining up subs before May 16.
The number of Chatham County Schools teachers requesting May 16 was not available on Thursday.
'Sick and tired'
Quoting Mississippi civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer, Dianne Jackson, president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Federation of Teachers said teachers are "sick and tired of being sick and tired" of working in a state that continues to make harmful funding cuts to public schools.
"After many years of cuts to education, we will be rallying, just to name a few, for an increase in per pupil funding, full funding for arts and physical education programs and an increase in staffing to address the mental health and guidance of our students," Jackson said.
Sally Merryman, president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Association of Educators, said North Carolina educators are ready to face state lawmakers head on to demand better working conditions and benefits for teachers and more funding for the state's children.
"We need you to empower us to stand up for ourselves, to stand up for our students and to stand up for those in other districts who don't have the good fortune of having progressive school board members to empower them to do the same," said Merryman, a teacher at Smith Middle School.
Support from Durham
Bryan Proffitt, president of the Durham Association of Education (DAE), brought several DAE members the the CHCCS board meeting to support teachers in that district.
"What we're willing to do in Durham is that we're willing to lead," Proffitt said. "What we did last night (May 2) is we stepped out and we led, not just for our students but for your students too. State policy Impacts all of our students, so what we're asking tonight is that y'all lead on behalf of our students."
Like in Durham, closing schools May 16 presents CHCCS with many challenges, namely how to reschedule Advanced Placement exams, provide childcare for families who need it and feed students who rely heavily on school meals.
"I want you to all how that I stand with you in making sure we talk with our legislators to put a little pressure on North Carolina to do what's right for educators," said Superintendent Pam Baldwin. "I also stand with every single family in this district to not create a challenge that I enable with a decision that I helped the board make. All of you know that I'm a teacher first."
CHCCS plans to provide professional development courses for cafeteria workers, bus drivers and other classified workers who otherwise wouldn't get paid May 16.
School board Chairwoman Rani Dasi there was a lot for the board to consider before it decided to close schools on May 16., and pulling it off will require the community's help.
"I think we have a lot of strong community members," Dasi said. "When we had to take a day off before, community members stepped up and really closed some of the gaps around the food issues and I've seen parents on social media offering to provide child care to other parents."
CHCCS canceled classes in March 2017 when a large number of female employees requested the day off because of the political protest that coincided with International Women’s Day. The organizers of the protest, titled “A Day Without A Woman,” encouraged supporters to take the day off from work, to wear red and to avoid spending money at businesses unless they are owned by women or minorities.