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School Districts Statewide Prepare For Teacher Absences On May 16

With growing numbers of teachers planning to participate in a rally at the General Assembly on the opening day of the 2018 short session, May 16, superintendents, principals and other school leaders statewide are busy making plans to cover instructional support needs and ensure safety for students that day.

The challenges facing each district are different, and the potential for large-scale teacher absences is raising questions from the media and parents.  The North Carolina Association of School Administrators (NCASA) assisted our core affiliate, the N.C. School Superintendents’ Association, in preparing the following sample statement that superintendents can localize to reflect the district’s specific circumstances and their plans for May 16:

“Our school district is working with our principals to ensure classroom instruction and necessary student support services are provided to our students without interruption.  Our primary focus continues to be on delivering a quality education to all our students and ensuring they are in a safe and conducive learning environment, and this commitment continues each day, even on days when one or more of our teachers are absent. If we have credible information that indicates a large part of the teaching force will not be present, we may have to make a decision regarding student safety and supervision that requires us to close.”

The rally is part of a national protest movement by teachers in conservative states demanding that lawmakers increase their pay and overall school funding. The movement started in West Virginia, where striking teachers won pay raises, then spread to Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona and Colorado.

High numbers of expected teacher absences make it difficult, if not impossible, for administrators to find enough substitute teachers to continue instruction and provide needed adult supervision for students. As of early afternoon May 10, 20 N.C. school districts had announced plans to close for students on May 16. Districts that will be closed include, but may not be limited to:

  • Asheboro City
  • Asheville City
  • Brunswick County Schools (except ECHS)
  • Cabarrus County
  • Chapel-Hill Carrboro
  • Charlotte-Mecklenburg
  • Durham
  • Guilford
  • Iredell-Statesville
  • Johnston County
  • Kannapolis City
  • Lexington City
  • Mooresville Graded
  • Nash-Rocky Mount
  • New Hanover
  • Orange
  • Pitt
  • Wake
  • Wayne
  • Winston-Salem/Forsyth County

Other school boards, including Chatham County and Granville County, are discussing this issue this week or early next and will determine if they will need to close as well.

Although the rally organized by the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) is intended to engage teachers in advocating for better pay and an increased state investment in student resources, the timing of the event during the school day already has resulted in negative feedback from General Assembly leaders. House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) in a joint press conference on Monday reacted to reporters’ questions about their views on the planned May 16 teacher rally.

According to The Insider State Government News Service, the Senate leader noted that teacher strikes are illegal in North Carolina and told reporters that "in some respects" this planned protest looks like a work slowdown and "fairly typical union activity."

Moore said end-of-grade tests are coming soon, making this an important time for teachers to be in the classroom, according to press conference reports from WRAL TV. Moore also said North Carolina's protest seems to be part of a national trend orchestrated by Democrats, and other states that have seen major teacher protests "have not been as generous" in their budgets.

This reaction from legislative leaders emphasizes why NCASA is urging NC school leaders to keep schools open May 16 if feasible.

“Our advocacy team has talked to enough lawmakers about this planned protest to know that it is more counter-productive than helpful to our own efforts seeking improvements in pay and school funding increases,” said NCASA Executive Director Katherine Joyce. “We are urging school administrators to make every effort to ensure services for students are not interrupted May 16 and to only close school that day if high numbers of planned teacher absences pose a threat to campus safety and/or significantly impair planned instruction or testing.”