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Hundreds of Durham teachers, school staff stage 'sick-out' and rally against revoked raises

Shellena Atlas -- Durham Public Schools Protest
Liz Schlemmer
/
WUNC
Shellena Atlas, a school counselor at Riverside High, was among those protesting at the Minnie Forte-Brown Staff Development Center on Hillandale Road in Durham on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024.

Hundreds of teachers and staff rallied Wednesday morning at Durham Public Schools' Minnie Forte-Brown Staff Development Center on Hillandale Road in Durham. More than 75% of school employees at 12 schools in the district called in sick or took leave Wednesday in protest, effectively shutting down their schools.

Martha Figuerado -- Durham Public Schools Protest
Liz Schlemmer
/
WUNC
Martha Figuerado, a special education teacher at Lyons Farm Elementary, was among those protesting at the Minnie Forte-Brown Staff Development Center on Hillandale Road in Durham on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2014.

The Durham Association of Educators organized the so-called sick-out to call for a "seat at the table" to negotiate any changes the district plans to make to staff salary schedules and how the district determines years of state service.

Educators turned in their leave Tuesday afternoon. Durham Public Schools announced the school closures after 9 p.m. Tuesday night.

At the rally Wednesday, teachers joined support staff to call for the district to restore raises that are being revoked and continue to honor years of experience for classified workers.

About 1,300 classified staff expect to see their pay reduced next month, after the school district failed to budget for raises workers began receiving in October. Affected staff include cafeteria workers, instructional assistants, school nurses, and maintenance and transportation workers, among others.

Margie Wescott is a teacher at Jordan High School who was at the rally.

“I want to support my classified staff. They are truly who make this school run efficiently. They're the people who keep it safe and clean and welcoming for everyone in the community,” Wescott said. “If they aren't here, the school isn't running. So, I want to support them any way I can.”

This rally was the culmination of several weeks of sporadic sick-outs by staff whose paychecks are being directly affected.

"But I think we all are affected by this," Riverside High School counselor Shellena Atlas said. "So yes, I am in solidarity. Indirectly or directly, we're all affected by this."

The school board has called a meeting for Friday where it will discuss staff salaries to see what the district can do to resolve the issue, within its budget. The school board said last week that the district failed to budget for raises that were already paid to staff, so those raises were paid for with budget reserves.


Editor's Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the school Martha Figuerado works at.

Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Reporter, covering preschool through higher education. Email: lschlemmer@wunc.org
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