Raleigh, N.C. — Plans for an organized show of support for public education next week has turned into a political fight, with state and local Republican leaders accusing the North Carolina Association of Educators of orchestrating a strike that they say will endanger student safety.
The push for a Nov. 4 teacher walkout started on Facebook several months ago among a handful of teachers angry about actions taken by the General Assembly this year, including ending tenure rights for veteran teachers, launching a private school tuition voucher program and passing a budget with no raises for educators.
The teachers' calls for a walkout picked up a lot of support, and Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake, said Thursday that he believes the NCAE was behind it.
"We think most teachers would actually prefer to stay in the classroom with their students so they can educate them, take care of them," Hunt said. "But they're apparently being pressured by the NCAE and their affiliation with the national union."
NCAE President Rodney Ellis said his group had nothing to do with it the proposed strike. A review of social media posts in recent months show that members of the association even actively discouraged a walkout.
"It was not us. It was some frustrated educators who have reached a point – and I guess that's key right there, is the fact that, when you get to the point that educators are talking about taking action that is clearly against the law, you know that they've reached a boiling point," Ellis said.
North Carolina law prohibits teachers from unionizing or striking, which is why the NCAE pushed the group to turn the event into a "walk-in" that won't leave students unattended or get anyone fired.
"If you get a handful of teachers walking out of their classroom, that only results in teachers losing their positions," Ellis said. "As admirable as it is and the energy is there – and we appreciate that, we think there are more – there are other ways that we can get our message across."
The walk-in is meant to spark discussion among teachers and parents about challenges like spending cuts and low teacher pay, he said, adding that it's not meant to be a political protest.
Individual schools and parent groups are deciding for themselves whether they want to take part, he said.
Wake County Public School System officials have told school administrators "neither to orchestrate the events nor obstruct them" as long as they don't interfere with classroom activities, district spokeswoman Renee McCoy said.
Still, Hunt said he isn't buying Ellis' claims, noting that the NCAE and Republican legislative leaders have spent the past three years butting heads.
"We think that teachers should be paid more, and we're certainly going to do that as soon as we can find the money, but there's no question this is a political event," he said.