Education

Orange County Schools joins districts canceling classes May 16

A sign reads "Because education matters, #redfored" as thousands of teachers and supporters begin their rally from the amphitheater at Civic Center Park in Denver, Colo., on Friday, April 27, 2018. About 2,000 teachers went to the Capitol on Thursday and up to 10,000 people were expected at Friday's events.  North Carolina public school teachers plan a similar demonstration in Raleigh when the legislature convenes on May 16.
A sign reads "Because education matters, #redfored" as thousands of teachers and supporters begin their rally from the amphitheater at Civic Center Park in Denver, Colo., on Friday, April 27, 2018. About 2,000 teachers went to the Capitol on Thursday and up to 10,000 people were expected at Friday's events. North Carolina public school teachers plan a similar demonstration in Raleigh when the legislature convenes on May 16. The Gazette via AP

Orange County Schools will join Durham and Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools in canceling classes May 16 to allow teachers to rally in Raleigh for better pay and working conditions.

In a 5-0 decision, the Orange County Schools Board of Education voted Monday night to make that day – the General Assembly’s opening day – an optional teacher work day. Board members Stephen Halkiotis and Donna Coffey missed the meeting.

District Superintendent Todd Wirt said more than 40 percent of Orange County teachers had requested that day off, with that number expected to grow if classes were held. He said the day would not have to be made up because the district will still have reached the mandated number of hours of instruction by the end of the school year.

Support staff such as custodians and bus drivers will be completing training and professional development that day, so they will still be paid.

Thousands are expected on the first day of the General Assembly's session for the "March for Students and Rally for Respect," organized by the N.C. Association of Educators.

Wake and Guilford county schools also decided Monday to close for the rally.

“We certainly hear the voice of our teachers,” Wirt said, “and Orange County Schools has and continues to support teachers. … At a time when conditions for the teaching profession have become increasingly difficult, we understand the call all over the state to strengthen the teaching profession so that the best and brightest can be retained and recruited to take on the awesome responsibility of serving our community’s most valuable resource, our children.”

The work day was not on the school board's agenda heading into Monday’s meeting, but members added it at the start of the meeting and quickly moved to pass the motion. Several teachers who had planned to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting to ask for the work day instead just took a few moments to thank the board.

Brian Link, a teacher at East Chapel Hill School and vice president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Association of Educators, said the board’s move gives teachers who want to rally in Raleigh several options: they can take annual leave, they can take a personal day, they can use banked hours, or they could choose to take a day without pay. Link attended the meeting in support of Orange County teachers.

“I’m just here this evening to say thank you and stand in solidarity with the districts that have already gone out," he said. "This is truly a wonderful to see politicians support public education.”

Link also said The N.C. Council of Churches, which is based in Raleigh, decided Monday night to support the rallying teachers with food and child care.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Janice Gilreath, a teacher at Cedar Ridge High School and president of the Orange County Association of Educators, “It’s about advocating for education, and it’s a hard choice for teachers to not be in the classroom, and this takes away that dilemma for us, and it allows to speak not just for today’s student but the students we’re going to see next year and the year after.”

Jennifer Moore, a teacher at Grady Brown Elementary and vice president of the OCAE, came out to the meeting even though she was fighting off a cold. “I’m very pleased,” she said of the board’s decision. “It’s very important that we advocate for our students and our teachers.”

Nan Fulcher, who has two children in elementary school in Orange County Schools, came to the meeting planning to speak in favor of the work day, but opted not to make a public comment after the board’s decision. She said it was especially important for OCS to have strong representation at the rally because other districts not as close to Raleigh may not have teachers there.

“In our case,” Fulcher said, “the show of bodies on the ground is even more crucial to show the nation the state is failing our teachers and kids.”

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