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North Carolina teacher wants his 7th graders to know why he marches

Teachers' strikes follow drop in school funding
  • A North Carolina teacher wrote an open letter to his 7th grade students explaining why he and other educators were walking off the job.
  • Lawmakers' "terrible policies" are chasing many teachers out of the the state, Justin Parmenter wrote. 
  • He and other protestors are demanding better pay not only for teachers, but also a $15 an hour minimum wage for cafeteria staff, bus drivers, nurses and other school workers.

Justin Parmenter, a language arts teacher at Waddell Language Academy in Charlotte, North Carolina, wants his 7th grade students to know why class was cancelled this week as he and other educators walked off the job.

"The legislators who are leading this state have done a lot of things to make people not want to be teachers in North Carolina," he said in a letter published on industry news site Education Week. "Since 2011, they have taken away due-process protections for new teachers, eliminated pay increases for educators with graduate degrees and revoked retirement health benefits for all state employees hired after Jan. 1, 2021."

The state has also increased standardized tests, removed class-size caps for most grades and cut more than 7,000 teaching assistants over the past decade, wrote Parmenter, who linked the policies to a shortage of teachers in the state.

Parmenter was one of thousands of educators, other school workers and supporters who rallied in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Wednesday to demand more funding for public education as well as an expansion of Medicaid. "Terrible policies" adopted by lawmakers in the state "have caused many great teachers to have left the state," he added, "and a lot of people who would have made excellent educators have decided not to become teachers at all."

"Rather be in class"

Marchers are also pushing to raise the state's hourly minimum wage to $15 for custodians, secretaries, cafeteria staff and bus drivers, many of whom work a second job to get by, Parmenter said. They're also calling on lawmakers to hire more nurses, librarians, social workers, psychologists, and school counselors.

On a more personal note, he wanted to dispel any notion that his students were being abandoned, as at least one state senator, Phil Berger, suggested on social media.

Sacramento teachers strike "for what's right"

"On May 1, thousands of children will be forced out of the classroom and hardworking parents will have to find childcare or miss work — all so the far-left teacher strike organizers can try to elect more Democrats," the Republican lawmaker wrote in a Facebook post.

Seeking to set the record straight, as he put it, Parmenter told his students the would rather be at work than marching. "The 178 unused sick days in my Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools employee account are a testament to how important I think it is for me to be at school," he wrote. "I would much rather be in class with you all on May 1, too, but our legislators spend weekends at home with their families, so we have to go to Raleigh on a work day to be able to speak with them."

Pen power

Organizers had hoped the May 1 "Day of Action" would exceed last year's crowd and build on the momentum they credit for helping mobilize voters in elections last fall. The protests were part of a wave of increased labor action in recent years by teachers, retail workers and others.

Because so many school employees in North Carolina requested Wednesday off, more than 850,000 public school students across the state were given the day off, too, as there were not enough substitute teachers to safely hold classes.

Teacher asks parents to write notes for when children need a boost

Parmenter drew media attention last fall for an entirely different sort of letter campaign in which he asked parents to write their children words of support that he could pass along when he noticed they were having a hard day.

"This is an activity that helps to bring down that barrier a little bit and bring parents into the classroom in a way and show the child that we understand you need support in a lot of different ways," he told "CBS This Morning" at the time.

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