Citing staff requests for time off, Cumberland, Johnston join list of schools closed on May 1

April 20, 2019

Johnston and Cumberland counties announced on Thursday afternoon that classes will be canceled on May 1.

In a message on social media, Cumberland County Public Schools said, “This decision was made after carefully monitoring the number of teachers and staff who have requested leave to attend the education rally in Raleigh on May 1.”

Johnston County spokeswoman Crystal Roberts said more than 500 teachers and staff had requested leave for the day.

Although no classes will be held, Johnston County will provide breakfast and lunch at seven elementary schools – Cooper Elementary, Micro Elementary, West Smithfield Elementary, Corinth Holders Elementary, Four Oaks Elementary, Princeton Elementary, and Selma Elementary. Breakfast will be served from 8:00 - 8:30 a.m. and lunch will be served from 11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.

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: