Preparations for teacher walkout underway across Arizona
PHOENIX — Parents, teachers and school districts across the state are preparing for a teacher walkout this week as educators try to pressure state leaders to meet their salary and school funding demands.
Last week, about 57,000 teachers cast ballots and voted overwhelmingly in favor of a walkout. It’s set to take place on Thursday, and preparations for it are already underway.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas said the Arizona Department of Education is putting together a guide for school districts on how they can prepare for the walkout and how it could affect schools.
“For every conceivable area that we have, we will provide guidance,” Douglas said. “But the problem is a lot of this is uncharted territory that has not been addressed either in statute or State Board of Education policy.
“We’re blazing new grounds.”
Douglas said her department plans to work with the Arizona Attorney General’s office to answer some legal questions, such as what happens if schools don’t meet the state’s requirement for instructional hours.
She said schools will likely need to make up any school days that are missed due to a teacher walkout.
Several school districts, including Mesa Public Schools, have announced they will close their schools during the walkout and any missed days will be made up at the end of the school year. Meanwhile, a few districts have said they plan to keep their schools open.
Douglas said her office is also looking into how Thursday’s teacher walkout could affect the AzMERIT test, which is Arizona’s statewide assessment that measures writing, reading and math.
“About 58 percent of the testing has been done, so there’s still a ways to go,” she said, adding that testing ends on Friday.
Testing dates for AzMERIT are set statutorily, so any changes made would need to come from the state legislature.
As for how a walkout could affect high school graduations, Douglas said school board members will have to decide if they need to move graduation dates farther back if students don’t meet the required instructional hours.
“Potentially students may not be able to graduate, and then what happens to their aspirations for college or a career or maybe the military afterwards?” Douglas said. “That’s why I’m imploring our teachers please, let’s not do this.”
In a statement on Friday, Douglas warned teachers they would be hurting students and their own interests if they move forward with a walkout.
Meanwhile, teachers remain steadfast with their plans to leave their classrooms.
In a video on Saturday, Arizona Educators United leader Derek Harris encouraged teachers to stay positive despite pushback by several school districts, saying, “We are doing the right thing.”
The decision to walk out came after educators rejected Gov. Doug Ducey’s proposal to give teachers a 20 percent raise by 2020. They said the proposal leaves out support staff – such as counselors, librarians and bus drivers – and fails to address much-needed funding for classrooms.
With a few days before the planned walkout, the Arizona Parent Teacher Association is advising parents to know their school districts’ contingency plans.
“Each individual district has a plan on how they’re going to be managing these walkouts, so I highly recommend you maintain contact with your schools and with your district,” Arizona PTA President Beth Simek told parents in a Facebook video on Friday.
“Nearly every school district has a Facebook page or a Twitter page,” she added. “Follow them on social media, because they’re going to be updating it regularly with what it is that’s going on.”
Simek said parents should ensure their children’s schools have their most up-to-date contact information. For school districts that offer an online parent portal, she recommended parents sign up to receive announcements through it, if they haven’t done so already.
“You don’t want to miss out on important information that the district is going to send out to you,” she said.
Simek encouraged parents to reach out to their local PTA chapters if they need help finding childcare or food for their children during the walkout.
She also gave tips to parents on how to explain the purpose of the walkout to their young children. Simek said parents should assure their children the walkout “has nothing to do with anything they did.”
“Teachers don’t want to not teach them,” Simek said. “Teachers are teachers because they love to teach and they love kids. It’s just that they need this time away from the classroom in order to sort things out and work things out so that a positive outcome can happen.”