Durham, Orange join list of schools closing for May 1 rally as NC superintendent asks teachers to stay in class

April 9, 2019

Durham Public Schools and Orange County Schools on Monday became the third and fourth district in the state to announce it is closing to students for the planned teacher rally in downtown Raleigh on May 1. Chapel Hill-Carrboro and Lexington city schools previously announced they will also be closed.

As of Monday, 568 teachers – about a quarter of Durham’s teaching staff – put in for leave for May 1, according to the district.

“On a typical day in May, DPS has 213 teachers absent. We are able to muster approximately 167 substitute teachers on such a day,” DPS spokesman Chip Sudderth told the media by email Monday. “At this time, given the lack of available substitute teachers and the likelihood of more requests for personal leave, it will not be possible to have adequate student supervision or instruction on that date.”

On Monday evening, Orange County Schools announced that May 1 will be a teacher workday.

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.

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 on Monday. “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: