Staff photo by Joshua Curry
Teachers and administrators gather outside of Eaton Elementary School on Wednesday, Nov. 20, to show support for North Carolina public education.
Teachers in New Hanover County may wear Red 4 Ed T-shirts in schools and voice their education concerns in nonpartisan ways, local school board officials said.
“The board has always been and is certainly supportive of our teachers and administrators,” New Hanover County Board of Education Vice Chairwoman Jeannette Nichols said in a Monday, Nov. 25, phone interview. “There was never a vote to ban the Red 4 Ed T-shirts.”
Attorneys for the North Carolina Association of Educators sent a letter to the county school board Nov. 20 taking issue with concerns raised about whether teachers could wear the shirts.
County school board attorney Wayne Bullard replied Nov. 22 that there was no ban on the shirts, and the board was unaware of local teachers being threatened with disciplinary action for exercising their constitutional rights. However, Bullard said, the board was concerned about orchestrated political activities by teachers on school grounds in front of students.
NCAE President Rodney Ellis Sr. said Nov. 25 he was pleased New Hanover County educators can wear Red 4 Ed shirts in schools.
“It’s just a matter of expressing support for public education,” Ellis said. “That’s certainly not a partisan issue.”
The Red 4 Ed movement has been around for years but has picked up momentum recently due to some new laws passed by the state General Assembly, Ellis said.
“This is one of the few ways teachers have the opportunity to say how they really feel,” NCAE New Hanover County President Dallas Brown said Nov. 25.
Teacher pay raises were a big concern, said Brown, who teaches career technical education and business classes at E. A. Laney High School.
“I don’t know of any occupation anywhere where people have not gotten a raise for five years and they’ve taken it quietly,” Brown said.
Meanwhile, Nichols said the board was working to better understand a new law that will phase out teacher tenure by 2018 in favor of contracts. North Carolina district school superintendents are to compile lists this school year of the top 25 percent of teachers to be eligible for a $500 pay raise for each year of a four-year contract.
“This is dividing our teachers and putting administrators in a very, very difficult situation,” Nichols said, later adding, “There’s no fair way to do it. It is so subjective.”
Another issue is the top 25 percent of teachers eligible for the bonus would need to sign contracts, but board members still lack information about what the contract says, Nichols said.
“That’s my concern — all the unintended consequences,” Nichols said.
All certified teachers at Charles P. Murray Middle School who would be eligible to be selected in the top 25 percent signed a petition earlier this fall saying they would not accept the bonuses if offered. The petition was in response to Senate Bill 361, the Excellent Public Schools Act of 2013, of which elements were included in the SB 402 Appropriations Act that became law.
“We believe this bill is divisive and insulting to us as professionals and request that our principal not accept any funds for this program,” the petition stated.
“What we support is quality education for our students,” Chris Meek, who teaches seventh grade social studies at Murray Middle School and who was among those who signed the petition, said Nov. 25.
The tenure change would not take effect until 2018 but would come sooner for those teachers who are selected to receive the bonus and accept it, Meek said.
“Nobody has a clue of what they’re going to look like,” Meek said of signing the contract. “It’s surrendering your protections.”
There are many factors to evaluating teachers, Meek said, such as different teaching styles and levels, different classes and different students who also may be dealing with issues at home such as witnessing parents fight or living in neighborhoods with higher incidents of crime.
“It would be one thing if the product — the students — was the same in every class,” Meek said. “You’re not dealing with the same level of students every day, and even those particular students can be different from day to day.”
When asked about the teacher evaluation and pay raise issues, Gov. Pat McCrory’s press office sent the following e-mail response Nov. 25 from gubernatorial press secretary Ryan Tronovitch: “The governor is focused on solutions to recruit, retain and reward our hardworking and valuable teachers across the state.”