News: CJ Exclusives

Eleven school districts, two charter schools closing May 1 for teachers’ rally

N.C. teachers protest at the May 2018 Red for Ed demonstrations in Raleigh.
N.C. teachers protest at the May 2018 Red for Ed demonstrations in Raleigh.

More than 500,000 N.C. students won’t be in class May 1 as school districts across the state close so teachers can attend a planned rally in downtown Raleigh.

As of Tuesday, April 16, 11 school districts and two charter schools will be closed for the May 1 Day of Action. At least 40 school districts cancelled classes so that thousands of teachers could participate in the event last year.

The school districts closing include Chapel-Hill/Carrboro, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Durham, Guilford, Kannapolis, Lexington, Mooresville, Orange, Wake, Wilson, and Winston-Salem/Forsyth. Central Park Charter School for Children in Durham and Raleigh Charter High School will also close May 1.

The N.C. Association of Educators is sponsoring the rally.

“It is wonderful to see this level of collaboration of local districts,” NCAE President Mark Jewell said in a news release. “This will certainly assist educators in making their voices heard at the General Assembly in Raleigh on May 1 so that we can continue to push for strong students, strong schools, and strong communities.”

This year’s rally will focus on five demands from the event organizers:

  • Provide enough school librarians, psychologists, social workers, counselors, nurses, and other health professionals to meet national standards
  • Provide a $15 minimum wage for all school personnel, 5% raise for all ESPs (non-certified staff), teachers, admin, and a 5% cost of living adjustment for retirees
  • Expand Medicaid to improve the health of our students and families
  • Reinstate state retiree health benefits eliminated by the General Assembly in 2017
  • Restore raises for teachers with advanced degrees ended by the General Assembly in 2013

Terry Stoops, vice president of research and director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation, said the list of demands — particularly Medicaid expansion — is a nod to the Democratic Party.

“It is consistent with the Democratic platform, which they are getting some of their policy ideas from,” Stoops said in a video for Carolina Journal Radio.

Stoops questioned the timing of the rally, which falls on an instructional day.

“Although union organizers say that the May Day walkout will call attention to policies that supposedly lead to better academic outcomes, canceling classes in the middle of the school week will disrupt student learning in a way that is entirely avoidable,” Stoops said. 

Stoops suggested the event organizers pick a day to hold the rally when school isn’t in session but lawmakers are still at the General Assembly. Closing schools on a school day only serves to inconvenience parents and negatively impact student learning, Stoops said. 

“The irony will not be lost on parents who must find alternative arrangements for their children on May 1 and taxpayers who have the reasonable expectation that educators show up to do the work that they were hired to do – teach children,” Stoops said.

Some school districts decided against canceling classes, including Craven County Schools and Union County Public Schools. Officials with Craven County Schools, per reports from WCTI, said they can’t cancel classes during the first part of May because of the number of school days already missed.

Hurricane Florence battered the region last year, forcing the school district to close schools while the storm raged.

“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 Board of Education, told WCTI.

Union County Public Schools announced on Facebook plans to operate on a normal schedule May 1.

“UCPS has partnered with the Union County Association of Educators (UCAE) and the UCPS Professional Advisory Council on a plan to send a delegation of teachers/staff, from each school, where possible, to Raleigh on May 1,” the post reads.

Craven County Schools is also working to send a delegation of teachers to the rally instead of closing the entire school district.

The announcements that certain school districts won’t close for the rally has raised the ire of some, including Justin Parmenter, an advisory board member of Public Schools First N.C. and Red 4 Ed N.C.

“These districts are doing everything they can to keep teachers from leading,” Parmenter wrote on his blog. “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.”

Others have praised the school districts deciding not to close May 1.

“We think that it’s healthy and appropriate for school administrators and teachers to have frequent conversations with legislators,” Pat Ryan, a spokesman for Senate leader Phil Berger, told the News & Observer. “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.”