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Wildcat Teachers Strikes Close Three Missippippi Districts

February 25, 1985

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) _ Hundreds of teachers protesting the lowest pay in the nation launched wildcat strikes that closed three Mississippi school systems Monday in the first widespread teacher walkouts in state history.

But plans by the Mississippi Association of Educators for a statewide strike by its 13,000 members were derailed when the state obtained a court order blocking a walkout for 10 days. There are about 26,000 public school teachers in the state.

″Today, ignorance or teachers will be silenced forever in Mississippi,″ said Greg Ladner, one of more than a dozen teachers who manned picket lines outside Petal High School.

Teachers are demanding a $7,000 salary increase over the next two years to bring their pay up to the Southeastern average. Teacher pay in the state averages $15,971 - lowest average in the nation.

Lawmakers are considering smaller pay packages, and Gov. Bill Allain wants the amount held to $1,500. Last Friday, the state Senate approved a $4,000 pay package over three years.

The wildcat strikes, limited to a pocket of counties in the Hattiesburg area of south Mississippi, were called despite a weekend chancery court order restraining teachers statewide from participating in any walkouts.

Striking teachers coupled with a low turnout by students forced school officials in Petal, Purvis and Covington County to call off classes. Some teachers struck in Hattiesburg, but officials said the number of teachers reporting was sufficient to keep schools open.

Elsewhere, teachers in several southeast counties said they would walk out Tuesday or later in the week to protest the legislature’s failure to meet their demands.

In Petal, students shouted their support to teachers carrying picket signs in the rain. Passing motorists honked car horns and one delivery man refused to cross the picket line to drop off milk to a school lunchroom.

The state teachers association, which had called for strikes last Thursday, sent staff members across the state late Sunday to persuade teachers to comply with the court order.

″We are prepared to go to jail, but not pay a fine,″ said Lois Rodgers, a striking Hattiesburg high school teacher. ″We broke our contract by voting to strike; breaking the law today isn’t going to make that much difference.″

Attorney General Ed Pittman said no action would be taken against wildcat strikers ″at this time.″

The court order blocked teachers from striking for 10 days and set a hearing to determine whether the prohibition should be permanent.

″By and large, this court order has been followed and we are pleased with that,″ Pittman said after being briefed on the wildcat strikes.

Pittman said that while the teachers ″were restrained, hopefully the legislature will act without restraint...and get our teachers up to the Southeastern average or close to that average.″

Allain, in Washington for a governors’ meeting, said he was keeping close watch on developments and urged strikers to return to the classrooms.

Pickets began showing up at schools in Hattiesburg, neighboring Petal and at the Purvis Attendance Center in Lamar County about an hour before the start of classes. In Covington County, Superintendent Ronald Graves said there was no picketing but that only about 50 of his 210 teachers reported to classes.

Superintendent Herbert Nobles of Petal said he ordered schools closed when only 11 of the district’s 150 teachers reported to work.

Nobles said many parents had decided to keep their children at home, ″and we had no choice but to close.″

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