05/05/2016

May 4 walk-ins sweep the nation

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Across the country, thousands of educators, parents and students—along with our community allies—gathered in close to 80 cities on May 4 to demonstrate support for the public schools all our students deserve—public schools that have the resources to provide every student with a world-class education. In the face of increasing threats to our public education system, these "walk-ins" showed support for educational justice and equity, particularly for schools serving low-income and working-class communities and neighborhoods of color.

Randi Weingarten at event in NewarkThe events were coordinated by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, a broad national coalition that includes the AFT. Among the coalition's goals: fully funded schools; accountability and transparency for charter schools and operators; and the tools, time and support that schools and students need—whatever their ZIP code. Similar events were held in February, but the May 4 day of action included more than twice as many cities. Especially noteworthy this time: we saw greater participation in the South, as well as in smaller towns and suburbs.

AFT President Randi Weingarten participated in events in Newark, N.J., where walk-ins were held at nine schools. "We need money for our schools. Public schools are a public good," she said. The walk-ins are "a grass-roots effort that joins parents, the community, educators and students to say these are our lives, not your lives. And you better treat us the way you treat your own kids all across the country." The Newark Teachers Union, New Jersey Communities United, Parents Unified for Local School Education and other groups participated in the walk-ins, raising awareness in support of sustainable community schools as an alternative to charter expansion and underfunding of public schools in the city.

Other locations that made the day of action memorable included:

Albuquerque, N.M. At schools across the city, members of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation and the Albuquerque Educational Assistants Association rallied with allies and elected officials under the motto, "Your Child, My Student, Our Community." School districts across New Mexico are facing the loss of significant numbers of staff, such as therapists, social workers and psychologists, as the state education department changes the way it funds special education. The walk-ins called for full and equitable funding for all public schools.

Rallying in AlbuquerqueBoston. Following a walkout in March that saw thousands of Boston Public Schools students demanding an end to damaging budget cuts at their schools, Boston Teachers Union members, along with parents, students and community leaders, rallied outside 42 local schools before classes began to demand the schools students deserve. This year alone, charter schools will siphon off more than $119 million in funds that would otherwise stay in the Boston Public Schools district, and be used to improve learning for all students.

Cincinnati. Cincinnati Federation of Teachers members, together with the Cincinnati Educational Justice Coalition and other partners, participated in the walk-in. They shared information on the district's acclaimed Community Learning Centers model, the recently enacted federal Every Student Succeeds Act, and how local parents, students and community members can make a difference in their schools.

Los Angeles walk-inLos Angeles. More than 150 schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District took positive actions to call for resources for sustainable community schools. Actions ranged from banner drops and walk-ins to flagpole rallies and mass email mobilizations.

Philadelphia. Philadelphia Federation of Teachers members, parents and educators across the city walked into dozens of schools together and continued to raise awareness about the need for increased public school funding. The School Reform Commission continues to increase funding for charter school expansion, further draining funds from public schools, while PFT members are still without a contract.

Pittsburgh. At four early childhood centers, parents, providers and students came together to raise awareness about the need for universal prekindergarten in the city of Pittsburgh for all children. The Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers partnered with Great Public Schools Pittsburgh, a community-labor alliance, in the effort. Great Public Schools Pittsburgh is pushing for sustainable community schools and universal prekindergarten.

Toledo, Ohio. Starting on April 6 (and continuing through May 11), the Toledo Federation of Teachers has been holding walk-ins on consecutive Wednesdays in each of the six Toledo Public Schools learning communities. The walk-ins aim to inform educators, parents and the community about current educational issues at the local and state levels and to highlight common values and expectations of a high-functioning school district. Those shared goals include a positive climate for students, teachers, staff and parents; appropriate staffing and retention of high-quality teachers; and less high-stakes testing.

Boston walk-inVolusia County, Fla. Parents, teachers and support staff in Volusia County held rallies and then walked into their schools together. Educators and community allies have been calling on the school board to end toxic testing, provide an engaging curriculum, provide adequate resources for teachers and take steps to address the ongoing teacher shortage.

The May 4 day of action built on the popularity of the February walk-ins. AFT members participated in huge numbers in many other cities, including Chicago; Danbury, New Britain and West Haven, Conn.; Lynn, Mass.; San Francisco; Scranton, Pa.; and locations across New Mexico and New York.

As part of the ongoing Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools campaign, the Public Schools All Our Students Deserve, the coalition is planning an even larger national action this fall, with a focus on influencing the conversation about public education during the presidential campaign and proper implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act.

For more May 4 updates and other information, visit the alliance's website.

On Twitter, #ReclaimOurSchools has photos and updates from across the country.

[AFT staff reports]