by Timothy Sandefur
Late yesterday, reports began circulating that schools in Arizona will begin reopening on Thursday…maybe. It’s hard to tell, in part because school districts have already broken their word on this. Chandler, for example, announced early this week that it would re-open, only to reverse itself shortly afterwards. But yesterday we were told that school employees would return to their jobs on Thursday if the legislature approves Governor Ducey’s “20 by 2020” plan.
In the meantime, schoolkids across Arizona were deprived of a week’s worth of schooling, and parents and kids were made to suffer. School districts encouraged teachers to refuse to report for work. One strike participant, a teacher named Erica Shelton, wrote to her colleagues after meeting with district officials to celebrate that the officials “confirmed what we liaisons believed to be true—that while our district supports us, they have to appear to the public to be working in the best interests of students.” That meant the districts would have to make a pretense of trying to remain open, but the pretense would be half-hearted. “Regardless of what you think about those at the District Office, they are firmly standing behind us,” she wrote. Later she enthused about the decision by District officials to eliminate a rule requiring teachers to provide a doctor’s note after three days of sick leave. This, she wrote, “is another example of how they are working WITH US.”
Another Red for Ed participant—Kathleen Honne, an assistant principal in the Dysart school district—urged strikers to ramp up the consequences inflicted on families. “One thing we can hold hostage, that really will impact a ton of people is graduation!” she wrote on the Red for Ed Facebook page. “Unpopular, I know! Venues have been paid for, etc. But in addition to that, there are lots of kids who need graduation to complete their college entrance process.” Realizing the public might see her words, however, she hesitated to say more. “With that said on this pretty public site,” she wrote, “I also think it is time for a more private page :(“
But organizers of the illegal strike have certainly succeeded in harming students and parents. One teacher, Cynthia Lorefice, told me how her district chose to close even though some of the schools voted to remain open. “Only 39 percent voted to walk,” she said. “The rest wanted to stay.” But district officials wouldn’t let them. And if schools have to extend the school year at the end to make up for the illegal closures, it will affect her family. “We have tickets to New York for after graduation. We made these plans a long time ago.” She’s frustrated that although she was willing to do her job, the district wouldn’t let her—and now she may be forced to pay the price.
And it’s not just conscientious employees who feel betrayed by these illegal closures. One parent, Jennifer Puglise, whose eighth grade son attends a school in the Peoria School District, told me her son had lost faith in his teachers. “He’s trying to make up his grade in math, and he needs the help,” she says. “And he’s just losing his mind from being out of school. He told me, ‘I hate them. I’m going to tell them I don’t trust them anymore.’ The bond is gone. It’s done. His words were, ‘They’re holding us hostage.’” Puglise told me that she could “see where [the teachers] are coming from, but it’s not right for them to walk out like that.” She tried to talk with teachers about her son’s situation, but got no answers. “I haven’t been able to speak to anyone. They’re nowhere to get hold of. And if there are teachers who want to teach, they’re afraid to say so. They’ll get retaliated against. I have a friend who’s a teacher, and she told me that the message was clear: ‘you’d better get downtown.’ It’s just unbelievable.” I asked her what she would tell the teachers if she could reach them. “Help me out,” she said. “Get back to work.”
Timothy Sandefur is Vice President for Litigation at the Goldwater Institute.