The Durham school board has voted 6 to 1 to close schools to students on May 16. That's the date of a planned teacher demonstration at the state legislature in support of increased public school funding.
More than 1,000 Durham teachers had already requested to take the day off knowing they may have to pay $50 for a substitute. Because the board voted at a special meeting Wednesday to make May 16 an optional teacher work day, they will not have to do so.
“Our teachers are key ingredients to what we need to see in our schools,” said Durham school board member Bettina Umstead, before voting in favor of closing schools on May 16. “They are the vehicles by which students are educated, and so we need to make sure we’re taking care of them. And I extend that from our teachers to the educators -- to the counselors, to the principals, to all of the other folks who are also influenced by what happens down in Raleigh.”
Before the vote, scores of educators and community members spoke in support of closing Durham schools, despite the challenges of finding child care and meals for low-income students. Among the speakers was a little girl who identified herself as a second-grader at E.K. Powe Elementary School in Durham, and the daughter of an elementary school teacher.
“My mom loves her job but I wish she would get paid more for all the hours she works before and after school, 'til late and even on weekends,” she said.
Several Durham school board members suggested they may participate in the demonstration. By many measures, North Carolina ranks in the bottom fifth of states for per-student funding and teacher salaries.