by Timothy Sandefur
Yesterday, I wrote about teachers who want to return to work but aren’t being allowed to, thanks to school districts illegally closing down public schools throughout the state. The people who suffering the most from this illegal conduct are the students, of course, but parents and the teachers who want to go to work are suffering, as well.
Tucson-area teacher September Rhoads has a daughter who’s a senior in high school. She’s supposed to ship out for Navy boot camp immediately after graduation, but the strike has interrupted these plans. Now the family’s being told that the schools will add extra time at the end of the school year and not turn over transcripts in time for her daughter. “She was crying,” Rhoads told me. “Here’s someone who’s willing to give her life for us, and she’s just being crapped on. This really hasn’t been for the children.”
Rhoads was disappointed that teachers seemed not to focus on the effect their illegal strike would have on the kids. “These are young minds, the minds of our future citizens,” she told me. “But the teachers didn’t bother to ask them what they thought. And a lot of them are against this.” She expressed her opinion by attaching a sign to her car that reads, “I’m a real teacher—I won’t walk out on your kids,” and she suffered harassment and even assault for speaking her mind. “A man came up and spit in my face,” she says. “He drove off so fast, though, I couldn’t get his license plate.” But many kids in the neighborhood agreed with her opposition to the strike. “They were taking pictures with me and with my sign.”
Dana Alexander, a parent with a child in Kyrene school district, agreed. She expressed sympathy with parents who are suffering in terms of stress and money, as a result of the illegal strike. “You know what? I’m a stay-at-home mom. So this doesn’t even really affect my day,” she said. “I can’t imagine what working parents are having to do.” She thinks it’s unjust that public school employees would disregard the law—and thinks it sets a terrible example. “If I kept my daughter out of school for five days and I said it was because I was protesting the school cafeteria or something, I’d go to jail. That would be truancy. But they can do this? What a message this is sending to kids. The example that’s being set here is a bad one. These are impressionable young minds here. And you’re teaching them that they can break the law to get what they want.”
Unfortunately, she said, parents and teachers are afraid to voice their opposition. “If you say anything about it, then you’re ‘against the teachers’ and you’ll be attacked.” She was frustrated that the districts refuse to enforce the rules. “Who’s in charge? Back in April, when some students protested about guns with a ‘moment of silence,’ the district said it wasn’t something that was planned, the kids just did it anyway. So I wrote them and asked, ‘Since when are the students in charge?’ Then a few weeks later, when the students were planning a walk-out, the district asked us to talk to students and ask them not to. So then they were in charge again. And now, when I say ‘Hey, go do your job,’ I’m told they can’t help it. So who’s running the show? Some days it’s the students, some days it’s the administrators, some days it’s the teachers.”
Forest Moriarty, a parent with two kids in Mesa area schools, told me he admires teachers and thinks they should get a raise, but opposes the illegal tactics they’ve embraced. “We feel our teachers have been amazing, and we think teachers should get paid more. But I’m against new taxes, and I’d like to see financially sound ways of giving teachers raises without a heavier burden on taxpayers. But I don’t agree with this walkout. And people like me have been shouted down and attacked.” Moriarty started a Facebook group called “Purple for Parents” to encourage discussion among those who oppose the strike. “Teachers are afraid to speak up about it,” he says, “because they get booed and yelled at, and a lot of them are afraid for their jobs—some of the teachers are afraid to go back to work. They’re afraid they’ll get blacklisted or shunned.”
One Phoenix biology teacher I talked to, Doug Hester, echoed that sentiment. He told me he didn’t think it was right that school districts wouldn’t let him do his job. “We were asked to go into a room and vote, and I chose not to vote. What I do or don’t do is my business. My contract is with the district, not with them. And then on the day of the walkout, the Superintendent told us not to report for work. And then again yesterday we got an email, and it said that we need to use our personal leave days for today—and that they’ll take away leave days for the past several days. And I had no choice. I wrote back and I said, ‘I am ready, willing, and able to report for work.’ And they said I can’t.”
Mr. Hester worried about how a week away from the classroom is harming kids. “I’ve maintained all along that this is hurting the students, and that I am ready to work. I’m a doctor. I don’t need this job. I took it because I love it. I’m not a malcontent. In fact, I agree with the principle here: teachers do need to be paid more. I disagree with the method. This has to be done in a legal way, and in a way that does not hurt the kids. If you don’t like your contract, don’t sign it. But to sign it and then moan about it and break the law? But when I said that on the Red for Ed Facebook page, and I asked, ‘what about teacher accountability?’—they blocked me from the page.”
Timothy Sandefur is Vice President for Litigation at the Goldwater Institute.