PEMBROKE — The Public Schools of Robeson County has not made a decision on closing schools so teachers can attend a rally Wednesday in Raleigh, the first day of the new session for the General Assembly.
There has been a last-minute surge of teachers asking for leave. Early Friday afternoon the number was 100, but a survey, initiated by Superintendent Shanita Wooten, before the end of the school day, showed 170 teachers planned to be out of the classroom Wednesday.
One by one school systems from across the state have been saying they would not hold classes on that day.
The determining factor for closing a school is how many substitute teachers are available countywide, according to Wooten. The superintendent is leaving all options on the table, including closing Robeson’s 42 schools and declaring an optional teacher work day.
“The Public Schools of Robeson County is working with our principals to ensure classroom instruction and necessary student support services are provided to our students without interruption on Wednesday,” Wooten wrote in a letter late Friday to principals and central office staff.
“Our primary focus continues to be delivering a quality education to all our students and ensuring they are in a safe and conducive learning environment,” she wrote. “If the numbers continue to rise and a large part of the teaching force will not be present next Wednesday, we may have to make a decision regarding student safety and supervision that requires us to close.
“Before making any decision regarding next Wednesday, we will consider the impact on students, teachers, classified/hourly staff, child care, early college, testing, etc. We will look at all options in order to show support for our teachers and staff, while maintaining crucial services our students and parents depend on during regularly scheduled school days.”
As of Thursday afternoon, 31 schools districts will be closed, including Wake, Mecklenburg and Cumberland counties.
Dubbed the Rally for Respect, the event is organized by the North Carolina Association of Educators.
The teachers hope to meet with state legislators to make their case, said Dee Grissett, Robeson Association of Educators president.
“It is very important for teachers to attend the rally to make their voices heard,” Grissett said. “This is not just about teachers’ pay. Increasing per-pupil expenditures is a huge factor, so our students will have the resources they need.”
Grissett spent most of the day with Wooten to determine the number of teachers who will attend. She said 375 said they were going, but only 170 had requested leave for Wednesday. Calls for teachers to request a personal day were frequent on Facebook on Friday.
At issue is better teacher pay, funding, school safety and crumbling school buildings. The NCEA is asking for a significant increase in per-pupil spending; a professional career plan, including reinstatement of pay incentives for earning advanced degrees; the addition of nurses, psychologists, social workers and other support personnel; and the expansion of Medicaid.
North Carolina State Superintendent Mark Johnson has said he will not attend the rally. NCEA President Mark Jewell said the event will be “memorable.”
“The response rate has been incredible,” Jewell said. “This will be something Raleigh has never seen. It’s going to be gridlock.”
Staff writer Scott Bigelow can be reached at 910-644-4497 of [email protected]