CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Buses full of Charlotte-Mecklenburg teachers will head to Raleigh May 16 to rally on a school day as part of a national movement.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox said classes will be canceled for students on that day because of lack of teachers. It will be an optional workday for teachers.
“Teachers and educators in this district are taking their own personal-leave days to join their colleagues,” Wilcox said in a press release. “As of late this afternoon, the current count of teacher and staff absences is approximately 2,000, the majority of which do not have subs. It is important to note that this does not include normal sick days. We expect the number to increase as the day of the rally gets closer, and we don’t have substitute-teacher capacity to cover all of the requests. I can’t guarantee we’ll be able to open all schools on May 16 with the staff needed to maintain student safety – so we’ve decided to make it an optional teacher workday.”
Wilcox said that he respected the right of teachers to make their voices heard in Raleigh.
The "March for Students and Rally for Respect" is being organized by the North Carolina Association of Educators, whose members are unhappy with the Republican-controlled legislature's decisions on teacher salaries and school funding.
“To our teachers, I say this: I share your concerns," Wilcox added in the press release. "I hear your voices calling for change and I know that you lift your voices not only for your own benefit but because you care about students, their futures and our community."
"It's not a strike,” said Judy Kidd, president of the Classroom Teachers Association “It's letting the legislature know that their course of action is not well received by the people they have been acting upon."
Educators from Arizona, Colorado and Oklahoma have been taking part in protests for safer schools, more resources, and higher pay. Some of the protests have forced schools to close for the day due to all the absences.
Durham and Chapel Hill schools will close May 16 for the North Carolina protest because there won't be enough teachers left to hold classes that day.
"We all need to support each other,” said Diego Teatin, who teaches in Mount Holly. “We are doing the best for our children."
While in Raleigh, teachers plan to fill the General Assembly galleries and meet with state leaders. It will end with a "Rally for Respect."
It's that passion that's driving the CMS teachers to our state's capital.
"People are very excited about it, and finally, everyone's talked about it, but this is the first time that everyone has united and said enough is enough,” CMS teacher Melissa Easley said. “I'm doing this for my family. I feel like I'm doing this for my students. I'm doing this for the future of teaching."
Erlene Lyde, a 37-year-old teacher and head of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Association of Educators, will load one of the buses with other teachers. She and other critics are upset over estimates that put North Carolina 37th in teacher pay nationwide, which is about $9,600 behind the national average.
"We're the only sector in North Carolina that has not seen our levels go back up to pre-recession,” Lyde said.
She also said more than enough teachers to pack two buses have signed up to ride with her group and that number is growing.
Charlotte teachers who plan to travel to Raleigh say it's about the students.
"We love your children. We love our jobs. We want to do what's best. It's not just about teacher pay. It's about everybody. It's about making sure that your students have the right resources and making sure that everyone has the best education possible," Easley said.
Teachers said that each year they see talented colleagues leave for better pay or different professions.
“It's not a choice that they want to make,” teacher Bishay Faris said. “People do love teaching. It’s just, they've got families.”
The teachers said their students deserve better.
"If we're not investing in our children, if we're not giving them all the tools that they need to be successful, how can we expect any more for them?” Faris said.
Cabarrus County Schools and Iredell-Statesville Schools also announced that school will be canceled on May 16. It will be an optional teacher workday.
Union County schools will also be closed for students on May 16 after receiving more than 1,000 teacher requests to take leave that day.
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