Raleigh, N.C. — The fourth "Moral Monday" protest of this year's legislative session ended Monday with a sit-in outside the offices of Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger. Fifteen educators and supporters said they intended to be arrested.
Organizers had planned to stage the sit-in inside Berger's office, but they arrived to find the doors locked. Much of the legislative staff was sent home early.
So, about 100 people gathered instead in the courtyard for a "teach-in," while scores more walked the halls, carrying signs.
Monday evening's event focused on state education funding. It attracted more than 1,000 protesters to Halifax Mall behind the legislature, many wearing "Red for Ed" or "I (heart) public schools" t-shirts.
Educators took center stage, including 10-year veteran teacher Bryan Proffitt.
Proffitt, who teaches history in Durham, is part of the advocacy group Organize 2020. He said administrators in some schools are already threatening to fire teachers who attend Moral Monday protests.
Without career status, Proffitt said, teachers will become even more vulnerable to arbitrary firing for political or other non-work-related reasons.
"You can get rid of a bad teacher anytime you want," he said. "The problem isn't that we have bad teachers in schools. The problem is that we're driving the good ones out."
Proffitt said the Senate's offer to trade pay raises for tenure rights, funded by laying off 7,400 teaching assistants, is "robbing Peter to pay Paul."
"Teachers all across the state are not going to go for that," he warned. "We're going to call you and visit you here and at home."
School nurse Kim Barnes spoke out against a Senate cut to funding for school nurses, saying that she already has three schools to cover in her job. When she's not at a school, Barnes said, teachers and administrators have to deal with medical problems from asthma attacks to stomach flu.
"Keep the school nurses in school so that teachers can teach and administrators can do their jobs," she said.
"Perhaps the worst indictment of the public schools in North Carolina," Duke University professor Tim Tyson observed dryly, "is that a number of the extremists around (the General Assembly) appear to have attended them."
Tyson railed against so-called Opportunity Scholarships, the $10 million state school voucher program recently put back on track by the courts.
"Why would you shift public money to private schools when we're already 48th in the country for per-pupil spending?" he asked.
State NAACP President Rev. William Barber accused Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis of seeking to dismantle the state's public school system.
"It used to be you couldn't win an office this high in North Carolina if you had a disdain for public education, and I'm about to suggest it ought to be like that again," Barber said. "If you want to undermine public education, go to another state, find another country. But here in North Carolina, it's a constitutional right."