DURHAM COUNTY, N.C. — The Durham Association of Educators says the county’s public schools are in a crisis. Members say they’re underpaid, schools are short staffed and current conditions are stressful.
Dozens of school workers, parents and students rallied outside the Durham Board of Education on Thursday to bring attention to the challenges they’re facing.
“We are really worried that a lot of our co-workers are going to leave the profession and leave the schools that we care about and love,” Andi Mariategui, an EC resource teacher at Club Boulevard Elementary School, said.
Mariategui has been teaching at Club Boulevard for two years and is concerned about the way things are going in Durham Public Schools.
“We have some staffing shortages, pretty severe staffing shortages. It's really hard to get substitutes right now,” Mariategui said. “We realize that this is part of a much bigger fight to give our schools the funding that they need.”
Mariategui says the Durham Association of Educators is proposing four main solutions.
First, they want the board of education to provide an immediate retention bonus to all staff. Second, members want one more planning day a month for the rest of the year. Third, they want the board to provide a threshold for safe staffing levels and switch schools to remote learning if too many staff are absent. Finally, they want the process for hiring substitutes to be prioritized and streamlined.
“We are asking the board of education to help stop the hemorrhaging of teachers from our schools so we can keep the amazing staff that we have and have fully staffed schools that can provide the nurturing, caring environment that we want for our students,” Mariategui said.
Symone Kiddo is a school social worker at Club Boulevard and also wants to see a change.
“On the whole I think the district has hundreds of vacancies, but we get an email every morning of the kind of places where we are covering, and we generally have maybe two or three people out on a day, but there have been days where we've had 10 or 11,” Kiddo said.
“It ends up being this really gross game of human Jenga that our administrators have to play every morning when we don't have enough people. They are trying to pull different people from different spots to cover different duties. It just means that kids aren't getting the type of attention that they need and the type of education they really need,” Kiddo said.
She says many teachers and public schools face unfair criticism through no fault of their own.
“I think that's a big weight on a lot of our staff members' mental health, just this feeling that we're not doing our job or we're not doing the best by our kids or that we are selfish when we come into these buildings every single day with the main priority of loving our kids,” Kiddo said.
She says the board has made changes in the past and believes members need to listen to educators before things get worse.
“I hope that they have been able to hear the feedback, and they are able to see the numbers of people that are coming out to our rally and really make a decision that keeps people in the buildings,” Kiddo said.
The Durham Association of Educators launched a petition with those four solutions at the start of this month and says it has 1,600 signatures.