Politics & Government

Some NC schools nix closing for May 1 teachers rally, saying that students need to be in class

Thousands of educators march in Raleigh and demand respect

On Wednesday May 16, 2018, the opening day of the legislative session, educators and their supporters from across the state traveled to Raleigh to demand more funding for public education.
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On Wednesday May 16, 2018, the opening day of the legislative session, educators and their supporters from across the state traveled to Raleigh to demand more funding for public education.

Some North Carolina school districts are trying to stay open May 1 by encouraging teachers to send small groups to Raleigh for the planned mass protest instead of having large numbers of employees take the day off.

The state’s four largest school districts, including Wake County and Charlotte-Mecklenburg, are canceling classes on May 1 because so many school employees have requested the day off. But some districts are asking their teachers to arrange for small delegations to go to Raleigh while classes remain in session on May 1.

State legislators who’ve criticized holding the protest on a school day are applauding districts who aren’t canceling classes.

“We think that it’s healthy and appropriate for school administrators and teachers to have frequent conversations with legislators,” said Pat Ryan, a spokesman for Senate leader Phil Berger. “It improves the policy-making process, which benefits everyone.

“We don’t think it’s appropriate or healthy to keep hundreds of thousands of students out of the classroom, especially when education funding is at a historic high and teacher funding has increased at the third-highest rate in the entire country.”

But the N.C. Association of Educators and other teachers who are organizing the May 1 protest say that the school districts are hurting themselves by not allowing all teachers to attend. Event organizers say they need “massive, unlimited numbers” of people at the event as they pressure lawmakers for changes such as providing raises to all school employees and expanding Medicaid.

“The only hope we have of winning is to fill the streets of Raleigh with a powerful sea of red, to pack the legislature with folks using their teacher voices to be sure members of the General Assembly hear the echo when they’re writing this year’s budget,” Justin Parmenter, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg schoolteacher, wrote in a blog post Saturday.

Mark Jewell, president of NCAE, says some teachers who want to go will be denied that opportunity if only a delegation is sent by their school.

Event organizers have been urging school employees to submit a request for personal leave on May 1. Under state law, it has to be approved if it’s submitted at least five days in advance and there’s a substitute available.

Last year’s protest resulted in at least 42 of the state’s 115 school districts canceling classes because they didn’t have enough substitutes to cover all the school employees who requested the day off. At least 11 districts have made the same call for this year’s protest.

Local school districts are in a bind. They’re trying to avoid alienating their employees and state lawmakers. They’re also trying to figure out how to educate their students, some of whom lost weeks of instruction due to hurricanes and snow storms.

WCTI reported last week that Craven County school leaders decided that they couldn’t cancel school after having lost so many days already this school year. Instead, the district decided to have principals talk with teachers about sending a delegation from their school to attend the protest.

“Our teachers have a voice and they want it to be heard but we also have a responsibility for our students,” David Hale, chairman of the Craven County school board, told WCTI.

Union County Public Schools made a similar announcement on Friday, saying May 1 will be a normal school day while the western NC district works with the local NCAE chapter to arrange for groups of teachers to go to the protest.

“We’re asking for teachers to come with a representative group to Raleigh,” Tahira Stalberte, assistant superintendent for communications for Union County schools, said in an interview Monday. “We just want to make sure their voices are heard in Raleigh but we still have school here in Union County.”

Parmenter, the teacher, said that Union and Craven aren’t the only districts that are pressuring teachers not to attend the protest. Parmenter is a member of the board for Red4EdNC, a teachers’ group helping organize the protest.

“These districts are doing everything they can to keep teachers from leading.” Parmenter wrote. “What they’re after in this case is the appearance of supporting teachers, but their premise is that the terms must always be dictated from the top down rather than through a powerful movement created by everyday teachers like you and me.”

Stalberte said that Union County hasn’t yet rejected any requests for personal leave. But three Union County teachers showed Monday copies of their rejected leave requests.

Jewell of NCAE said that teachers around the state are reporting that their requests to take May 1 off are being rejected. He said school districts should be working with and not against the march.

“What we’re fighting for on May 1st is the school districts’ fight,” Jewell said. “Our hope is that the school administration, superintendents and school boards would join in solidarity with our day of action.”

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.