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Pitt public schools to close as teachers rally

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Lauren Piner, president of the Pitt County Association of Educators, speaks during a press conference held outside of South Central High School on May 8, 2018. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)


By Brian Wudkwych
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Pitt County Schools announced Tuesday it will cancel classes May 16, as nearly 200 teachers have requested the day off to join educators in Raleigh for a rally to seek better funding for state schools.

Teachers from across the state are expected to participate in the “March for Students and Rally for Respect” on the opening day of the state legislature’s short session. 

Pitt County Board of Education Chairwoman Mildred Council said in a statement that concerns for student safety prompted the decision. Sufficient staffing is vital to ensuring the well being of students, she said.

Superintendent Ethan Lenker said the decision was in the best interest of the teachers, and Pitt County now joins 12 other school systems that have canceled classes that day. 

“We realize that canceling school places a tremendous burden on parents, local businesses, and the community at large,” Lenker said. “This is a decision that we do not take lightly. However, Pitt County Schools supports our teachers fully and asks that our community do the same.

“We want to be able to recruit and retain the best and brightest into the teaching profession because our children deserve nothing less,” he said. “Hopefully, our teachers’ voices will be heard and lead to meaningful change.”

The Pitt County Early College High School will hold classes on its normal operating schedule on May 16, as the school is holding exams that week and has a different calendar than the rest of the district.

The day will be considered an optional teacher work day. Pitt County Schools officials also said students will not have the make up the day as the schedule has extra time built into it.

State Superintendent Mark Johnson issued a statement on Twitter saying that he does not plan to attend the rally and hopes more schools do not close their doors that day. 

“We all know this affects students, parents and other school employees,” Johnson said. “Protesting is a right but it can be just as effective during non-school hours.”

The decision came only hours after about 25 teachers and public education advocates took to the front of South Central High School to hold a news conference outlining what they want to see done by the General Assembly when lawmakers return on May 16. Right now, an estimated 10,000 teachers from across the state plan to rally at the capital.

Local teachers held line graphs that showed declining teacher pay, money for supplies and corporate taxes in an effort to visually represent their concerns with how public schools are being funded. Some spoke about how North Carolina compares to other states they have lived in, while others detailed how the shortcomings affect their everyday teaching experience. 

The National Education Association recently reported that the state’s average teacher pay ranked 39th in 2016-17 and is expected to rise to 37th this year. 

Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, said those planning to march in Raleigh are asking for significant investment in per-pupil spending, a multi-year professional pay plan for school personnel — including tenure, an increase in school nurses, counselors, social workers and other support groups, a commitment to improve the condition of aging schools and a promise to prioritize classrooms over corporate boardrooms.

“May 16 is just the beginning,” Jewell said. “It is the beginning of a six-month stretch where we will find out who is seriously on the side of public schools, public school students and educators. We will be pushing for action and holding those accountable who are not on the side of our kids with the ultimate goal of electing pro-public education leaders in the North Carolina General Assembly.”  

So far there are a confirmed 190 Pitt County teachers officially signed up to go to Raleigh, according to Lauren Piner, the president of the local North Carolina Association of Educators chapter. She has spearheaded the effort and is working to get as many teachers as possible to the rally. 

“The time is now to return North Carolina to its status as being know as a progressive beacon of hope in the South in regards to the education system,” Piner said. 

Contact Brian Wudkwych at bwudkwych@reflector.com or 252-329-9567 and follow @brianwudkwych on Twitter.