Teachers, Parents ‘Walk In’ to Support Public Schools

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

In a show of support for the nation’s embattled public schools, and especially for students in them, teachers and parents from Los Angeles to Chicago to the Twin Cities marched on Feb. 17 in “Community Walk-Ins For Our Schools,” supporting public education.

Their causes ranged from the bitter fight in Chicago over a pending teachers’ contract – American Federation of Teachers local members there have already voted yes in a strike authorization vote – to crumbling buildings in Detroit to better support staff in St. Paul, Minn.

The marches were organized by an umbrella group, the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS). The National Education Association, the nation’s larger teachers’ union, helped organize AROS. The other union, AFT, enthusiastically joined in the marches, which occurred at more than 900 schools in 30 cities.

The marches also come as teachers and public schools continue to face widespread attacks from the right wing, business interests and their political puppets. Those forces push schemes such as taxpayer-paid vouchers for private school students, so-called “charter schools” not bound by contracts, funding cuts, privatization of high school teaching in GOP-run Florida and staff services elsewhere. And the GOP abolished teacher tenure in Michigan.

In addition, politicians of both parties often make teachers targets, cutting pensions, closing schools, slashing support services and eliminating pay raises.

Marchers gathered in front of schools before the Feb. 17 school day began. Some demonstrated at the schools, while others headed to their cities’ downtowns or their states’ capitols to carry their message. Some of the specific causes included:

• The upcoming contract is the big Chicago issue, where the Chicago Teachers Union, AFT Local 1, already passed a strike authorization vote by an 88 percent-12 percent margin. 

“We demanded in bargaining: Smaller class sizes, relief from paperwork that doesn’t help education, time to prepare for classes, and services for students and families in the schools,” the CTU’s most-recent flyer says. A fact sheet says the school system wants 5,000 layoffs.

While the city’s latest contract offer “had some good qualities,” and while bargaining continues, “teachers decided the board had many ways to back out or not follow through on the good promises, while the bad provisions hurt teachers and schools a lot,” CTU explained. “We also did not see that the mayor and his hand-picked Board of Education were trying to find better ways to fund the schools” rather than taking out high-interest loans from Wall Street.

• Detroit’s teachers are so fed up with the decaying state of their schools – and the GOP-mandated state takeover of the mostly minority school district – that their march focused on the lawsuit that the Detroit Federation of Teachers filed on Jan. 28 against the bad conditions. Detroit teachers and parents held their walk-in on Feb. 9.

The suit says the city school system and the state-named emergency manager “allowed schools to deteriorate to a crisis point.” That forces students "to spend their young lives in deplorable surroundings, risking their health and safety in the process, and imposing on students and their teachers an atmosphere that interferes with their securing a minimally sufficient education," the marchers, led by DFT Interim President Ivy Bailey, said.

Conditions in Detroit schools include black mold, bacteria, freezing cold or overly hot classroom temperatures, rodent and insect infestations, exposed wiring and falling debris, the lawsuit says. When the mayor walked into one classroom recently, he found a dead mouse in the middle of the floor.

"Educators and parents have been raising the red flag for years about dangerous school conditions, only to be snubbed, ignored and disrespected by DPS and the emergency managers,” Bailey added.

• St. Paul teachers, members of Education Minnesota, the joint AFT-NEA state teachers’ federation, campaigned for a new contract and said the school district’s latest offer, with an 0.5 percent raise in each of its two years, is inadequate. The union’s top priority is to add support staff to deal with school safety and to provide more services for English Language Leaders and more co-teaching.

• Milwaukee teachers, members of the NEA, report two walk-ins there – which occurred before Feb. 17 -- won an apparent victory: The GOP-controlled state government seems to be backing off schemes to convert city schools into charter schools.

“As a result of the walk-ins, by a united coalition of parents, educators and students, the power brokers are backing off. By organizing walk-ins at over 105 schools MTEA has built 105 community organizations ready to defend their public schools. The actions have also created an incredible opportunity to build a base of parents and community members who can be allies in future events,” ACOS reported.

• NEA Vice President Becky Pringle told the walk-in crowd of more than 100 parents and teachers in Paterson, N.J., that students should be taught in “environments that are safe, adequately funded, inspiring, and positioned to help them reach their full potential.

“We will not apologize for standing up for the needs of our students, our members, communities, and public schools. We will not allow our schools to be underfunded, and our students over-tested, and overlooked. We will not tolerate a system of public education predicated on the false choice between delivering on the promise of a great education to the chosen few, or to none at all,” Pringle added.

Other cities where teachers and parents “walked in” or marched included: Atlanta; Austin, Dallas and Houston, Texas; Boston; Boulder, Pueblo and Denver, Colo.; Cleveland Heights, Ohio; Green Bay, Racine and LaCrosse, Wis.; Kalamazoo, Mich.; Los Angeles and San Diego; Philadelphia and Pittsburgh; and West Orange and Newark, N.J.

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