Students to get day off while teachers rally

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The Wilson County Board of Education voted Monday night to change May 1 to an optional teacher workday in anticipation of teacher shortages stemming from the North Carolina Association of Educators rally in the state capital.

“Last year, we faced the same issue with the rally that occurred,” said Board of Education Chairwoman Christine Fitch.

Fitch said the required number of substitutes Wilson County Schools would require to fill in for absent teachers could pose “possibly a safety issue.”

“If you have a lot of substitutes, there is not the constancy or consistency to make sure that everything is in place for the safety of the students because some of the substitutes may not be familiar with all of the procedures that go on within the school to the point of being responsible for everybody,” Fitch said. “Because of that, the discussion was held as to how we would proceed this year.”

Fitch said she’d volunteered to write a letter to the NCAE’s local chapter as well as to the branch of the retired teachers association about the spring teacher rallies.

“We are very supportive of our teachers,” Fitch said, but “having to face this obstacle every year, since this will be the second year that they have done that,” she hoped for some cooperation in scheduling the advocacy day at the state legislative complex in Raleigh.

Fitch said the schools could possibly build in a teacher work day “so that we are not having to scramble at this late time of the year.”

“We are fortunate because as the weather conditions occurred at the first of the year, we were granted four days’ waiver,” Fitch said. “We have built-in hours and we do have enough hours to be able to cover moving May 1 to an optional teacher workday as opposed to an instructional day,” Fitch said. “The concern is that we lose instructional time when these rallies occur.”

As part of the board’s motion, the school administration has been asked to “provide sites for meals for the students who, ordinarily being in school, would have access to breakfast and lunch.”

Six locations to be determined by the school administration will provide students with meals.

This is the second year the Wilson County Board of Education has been confronted with the need to alter its school calendar in response to an NCAE teacher rally.

On May 16, 2018, about 19,000 teachers came from all corners of the state to the NCAE headquarters, then marched nine blocks to the General Assembly carrying signs and shouting slogans.

The red-shirted teachers protested low pay and inadequate funding for public schools.

Last year’s gathering was dubbed the March for Students and Rally for Respect. The theme for this year’s rally is “Strong Students, Strong Schools, Strong Communities.”

Last year, many teachers said they would rather be teaching, but voicing their concerns about the state of education in North Carolina was important enough to come to Raleigh and march with other educators to make their point heard.

In 2018, 41 school districts closed, resulting in days off for roughly 75 percent of North Carolina students. Wilson County had 273 teacher absences on the day of last year’s rally.

According to the NCAE website, organizer are still working on specific details for this year’s “Day of Action.”

One thing is clear — the teachers will again be wearing “Red4Ed.”

As of April 11, nine of the state’s 115 public school districts had opted to keep students home from school in anticipation of teacher shortages on May 1.