GOP, conservatives complain about Monday teacher protests

khui@newsobserver.comOctober 31, 2013 

State Republican lawmakers and conservative groups are accusing the N.C. Association of Educators of injecting politics into the classroom with Monday’s series of planned protests on funding for public education.

NCAE, the largest group representing the state’s public school teachers, has been encouraging educators across the state on Monday to hold “teacher walk-ins.” Plans call for teachers to wear red, march to school and meet with parents and community members. The walk-ins were proposed after some teachers statewide had talked about not showing up for work Monday.

Two events at Wake County schools are drawing the attention of conservatives. The actions – one school is allowing a meeting with teachers and parents during educational time, and another is allowing a flier promoting the walk-in to go home in students’ backpacks – drew sharp charges of partisanship from Republican legislative leaders and conservative bloggers.

At Lacy Elementary School in Raleigh, the PTA sent an email to its members asking for volunteers to cover classrooms from 8 to 9 a.m. Monday while teachers meet on campus with parents and community members. Part of the meeting will take place during school hours, with the event being broadcast on televisions in the classrooms “so that no one will miss it,” according to the PTA.

Renee McCoy, a Wake schools spokeswoman, said principals have been told neither to orchestrate nor obstruct the Monday events. School board members and Superintendent Jim Merrill have publicly criticized education-related actions taken by state lawmakers.

Teachers are protesting about such issues as the lack of a pay raise, the phasing out of tenure, the coming elimination of extra pay for teachers who gain advanced degrees and the reduction in the number of teacher assistants. Most of the developments came as a result of legislation passed by the GOP-led General Assembly.

Senate leader Phil Berger, a Rockingham County Republican, and Sen. Neal Hunt, a Raleigh Republican, accused the teachers group of putting children at Lacy at risk for political purposes. Both lawmakers called on state Attorney General Roy Cooper to investigate the situation.

“Schools have a duty to educate and protect our children, not serve as marching grounds for political protests orchestrated by unions,” Berger and Hunt said in a joint statement Wednesday. “We are deeply disturbed the NCAE is encouraging teachers to turn their backs on their classrooms and leave their students in the care of strangers who may lack formal training and background checks.”

Cooper, a Democrat, took a jab at the senators.

“If the Senate was so concerned about students, they wouldn’t have drastically shortchanged our public schools,” Cooper said in a written statement. “I can understand why teachers are beyond frustrated, but I don’t think they should leave the classroom.”

Larry Nilles, president of the Wake County chapter of NCAE, declined to comment on the Lacy event.

McCoy said it’s not unusual for PTAs to reach out to their members to supervise classrooms for teacher events such as special luncheons and meetings.

In the second incident, a flier from NCAE went home Tuesday with students at Holly Ridge Elementary School in Holly Springs announcing an after-school walk-in event Monday.

The flier from Holly Ridge includes the website for Organize 2020, a group that is helping coordinate the protests. The website, www.organize2020.com, includes several statements highly critical of Republican state leaders.

“Apparently those parties promoting the event see no problem using students to deliver their message of unionization and promoting their upcoming union rally; however, we do,” Wake County Republican Party Chairwoman Donna Williams stated in a news release Wednesday.

In a blog post Wednesday, Bob Luebke of the conservative Civitas Institute charged the school was illegally distributing political material.

But McCoy said it’s not unusual for fliers to go home with students and that the ones for Monday’s event complied with school district guidelines.

Nilles said that the fliers paid for by NCAE are not political and that nothing should be read into the reference to Organize 2020’s website.

“It’s not about politics,” Nilles said. “It’s about talking about our schools.”

Hui: 919-829-4534

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