Classes cancelled May 16 so teachers can rally in Raleigh

Board Vice Chair Carolyn Carpenter and Chair Cindy Fertenbaugh discuss making Wednesday, May 16 an optional teacher workday. The Cabarrus County Board of Education made the decision during its work session on Monday, May 7.
May 10, 2018
CONCORD— Cabarrus County Schools added its name to the list of districts that will be closed on Wednesday, May 16 when teachers across the state plan to participate in the “March for Students and Rally for Respect.”

The march coincides with the opening of the North Carolina General Assembly and #RedForEd strikes in other states. Coordinated by the North Carolina Association of Educators, the march claims it is for teachers to go to Raleigh and advocate for better pay and safer schools.

The association has a page on its website where teachers can RSVP to attend the march, which is set to begin at its headquarters at 10 a.m.

Last week, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools along with Durham and Chapel Hill- Carrboro school districts decided to make the day an optional teacher work day because too many teachers would be absent.

As news hit that these districts were closing, more and more teachers began requesting to have the day off.

Cabarrus County Schools Superintendent Dr. Chris Lowder said as of Monday, May 7 the district had received requests from approximately 600 teachers to be out of the classroom on May 16. He told the board of education that with that number of absences, schools are not able to ensure proper supervision and instruction for students.

“Over 500 of those are all within the last week or so. There are a few of those that aren’t tied to this, but the vast majority of them are,” Lowder told the board during its work session this week. “So as a result of that it is my recommendation to make it an optional teacher work day.”

Before the board made its decision, a few members expressed their support for teachers but also concern for other employees and how this act might be seen by legislators.

Board Chair Cindy Fertenbaugh asked what arrangements would be made for hourly employees such as cafeteria workers and bus drivers that won’t be paid that day because schools are closed.

“So I think each department will be looking at that. Just based on what some other systems have done, some of them have scheduled some professional development for those days and some opportunities for people that may not have been working. So maybe for some people who are in transportation, those will be provided,” Lowder said. “Some of those would be things the departments could take advantage of too. So again you have to look at budgets and make sure that works, but at this point we would entertain some of those same alternatives.

Board member Robert Walter also questioned if closing school for an entire day would detrimentally impact students so late in the year. He said he was looking at this issue as a parent and concerned about losing an instructional day so close to exams.

“I am 100 percent supportive of our teachers. I just think there has to be some type of alternative than shutting down our whole school system for that day. Maybe there could be a representative, one from each school, and put them on an activity bus and bus them up there for that rally. But to shut down everything just seems like a huge sacrifice,” he said. “If there’s a benefit, maybe so, but there should be something creative we can do other than shutting down our system for a rally.”

Fertenbaugh also said she wanted to make a point to encourage any teachers that do travel to Raleigh to be respectful to legislators because if it wasn’t for the flexibility they added to the school calendar, districts would not be able to close and make the day an optional teacher workday.

Before the flexibility was added, districts were required to have school a certain amount of days each year. Now districts are bound by hours, so the optional teacher work day will not have to be made up by students. Usually these type of days are used for winter weather.

“If it had not been for them re-granting some flexibility in our calendar and changing one word—an “and” on an hours and days requirement to and “or”— this would not even be an option. We could not consider this,” Fertenbaugh said of closing school.

“We would be required to have school or go longer in the year which would cause issues with graduations and things. So there’s many more things I could say, but I understand that people want to have their voice.”

She also said she wants teachers to know that the board and leadership for Cabarrus County Schools constantly advocate for them on a regular basis.

“There are so many things that happen behind the scenes that people don’t know about to try to instill the importance of receiving funding both from the county and from the state. We can’t always get our way but we are out there saying these things.

We do work on this on a regular basis, building relationships with people, providing information whether it be about deferred maintenance or a bill before legislature,” she said. “So I don’t want anybody to have the impression that we have not been working to relieve things that are considered unfunded mandates.”

Seeing the rally as a double-edged sword, Fertenbaugh continued that she understands why teachers want to rally but she also worries that this could impact future flexibility and other changes that are already in the works.

One of the changes she used as an example is the need for more calendar flexibility so schools can start a week earlier in August and students can finish exams in December.

“The legislature can grant and they can taketh away. So they took away that calendar flexibility where students were able to finish even high school sometimes in three-and-a-half years and then went on to the military or to a number of things based on their personal and family needs,” Fertenbaugh said.

“They gave us this flexibility back three years ago, and I’m very concerned this is going to be seen as a misuse of calendar flexibility. I’m very concerned.”

Following the discussion, the board voted to make the day an optional teacher workday.

JOIN THE MOVEMENT #iBELIEVE