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Bus drivers, cafeteria workers, retirees, other school staff asked to join May 1 teacher rally

April 12, 2019

Bus drivers, cafeteria workers, retirees and other school support staff are being asked to join the May 1 teacher rally in Raleigh. Red4EdNC, a nonprofit organization made up of teachers from across the state, posted on its website that, “with every stakeholder group involved, we could be 50,000+ strong on May 1st.”

Symone Kiddoo, a social worker in Durham, said she and several other employees have decided to join the rally. Kiddoo said being a school social worker has changed since she first took the job.

“This first grader’s voice trembled as he described how scary his home life is and how he didn’t feel like anyone would care if he died and his voice haunts me, because no child should have to feel that way but also because I knew that there were so many other students’ voices that went unheard and go unheard because there is one school psychologist for every 2,083 students in North Carolina,” she said.

The North Carolina Association of Educators, which is organizing the event, held a similar rally last year, which drew an estimated 19,000 people and closed more than 40 school systems. NCAE President Mark Jewell has predicted this year’s event will be even larger.

“We are educators doing this for students that we teach every single day to make sure they are successful and have every opportunity to succeed,” Michelle Burton said.

Deborrah Bailey is a school custodian and said she wants to be paid a livable wage, as she believes her job helps children too.

“My question is what is the incentive to remain in these roles? Are we not worthy of $15?,” Bailey asked.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools on Thursday became the eighth school district in the state to announce it is closing for the May 1 rally. Wake County public schools, the state’s largest school district, made the same announcement Wednesday afternoon.

Raleigh Charter High School announced Friday it also will close for the rally.

“Many members of our school community, including a growing number of teachers, have expressed interest in participating in this event and supporting the many educators who plan to attend to advocate for public education,” Raleigh Charter Principal Lisa Huddleston wrote on the school’s website. “Friday, May 3 was originally set aside to be a reading and study day for students as they prepare for their AP exams. We will now hold a regular school day on this date and encourage students to use May 1 as their reading and study day.”

In a statement Friday, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger blasted the “far-left North Carolina Association of Educators.”

NCAE “has changed the goalposts year after year on what its priorities are, but its primary mission has remained the same: to mislead the public into thinking Republicans are bad for educationm” Berger said. “NCAE is calling on teachers to strike despite historic increases in teacher pay and education spending under Republican leadership. The far-left NCAE strike will keep kids out of the classroom and force parents to find childcare. Despite the fact that Medicaid already covers every child with a family income up to 138% of the federal poverty line, the NCAE is pushing teachers to strike over Obamacare Medicaid expansion, which has nothing to do with education.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson has pleaded with teachers to stay in the classroom instead of attending the rally so students don’t miss any instruction.

“I personally hope that teachers do not come on May 1 because we’ve had such a hard year this year with hurricanes and bad winter weather,” Johnson told WRAL News. “I just ask that teachers will consider coming perhaps on a day that doesn’t interfere with instruction. But also, importantly, we have certain school employees who won’t get paid if they don’t work, such as school bus drivers.”

Johnson asked teachers to consider taking action on a day when schools are not in session.

“I ask that teachers come over spring break and meet with me, meet with their lawmakers. Let’s have productive conversations,” he said. “But again, this doesn’t mean we don’t support teachers, we just have to ultimately realize that a lot of consequences happen if we ask for a day off of school.”

Johnson, a Republican, has had a strained relationship with the NCAE and did not attend last year’s rally. Instead, he headed 100 miles east to meet with school leaders in Craven County near the coast.

A review of his text messages and emails from last May shows the superintendent received both praise and criticism from the public for his decision not to attend the rally. Some thanked him for refusing to support an event that “hurts the kids and has caused undue hardship,” while others viewed his refusal to participate as a “lack of support” for teachers.

This year, Johnson plans to spend the day on May 1 at the state Department of Public Instruction in Raleigh for the planned State Board of Education meeting.

NCAE leaders say last year’s event led to some changes in the state budget and at the ballot box. Teachers got raises this year, and Republicans lost their veto-proof majorities in the legislature.

NCAE’s president said the group has five priorities for this year’s rally: