Oklahoma Teachers Are Divided Over How Long To Strike


OKLAHOMA CITY — On day three of a statewide strike in Oklahoma, teachers are torn over how much longer the action — which is technically illegal — should final.

For many, the long, flat trip from rural areas to the capitol is a financial hardship. Teachers hold to arrange childcare for their own children back in their hometowns, and many are worried approximately how to feed their poorest students while their schools are shut down.

But the public employees say they want to stay and maintain the pressure on state legislators, and that they won’t stop walking out until they receive long-overdue pay raises and funding for students — some of whom hold to sit on the floor for lack of desks, or learn from textbooks more than a decade out of date, or shiver because of exposed insulation in the winter. They’re section of a growing, nationwide movement of teachers pushing back against lawmakers after years of austerity, after teachers in West Virginia successfully won a pay raise with a nine-day strike.

The conversations approximately whether to stay or proceed are happening during breaks in the picketing inside and external the capitol building here. The decision process is democratic. By mid-afternoon each day, teachers fill out online surveys to say whether they are for or against continuing the walkout. A majority of teachers so far hold voted to press on.

Districts settle individually, and seven hold now committed to lasting out the week. At least 50 school districts across the state of Oklahoma were closed Monday and Tuesday.

Melissa Copeland, who teaches fifth-grade math and science at Woodrow Wilson Elementary in Duncan, Oklahoma, told BuzzFeed News that many of her district’s kids “don’t win to eat whether they don’t hold school.”

“Our district wants it to final to at least the stop of the week,” Copeland said of the walkout, as she graded papers and charged her phone Tuesday inside the Oklahoma City Historical Society building near the capitol. “But I feel we can’t accomplish anything else this legislative session. I contemplate whether we need to, we should reach back next session, instead of at the final minute.”

Copeland, a single mother of a 2-year-customary and 5-year-customary, both in pre-K in Duncan, said her kids are being babysat back domestic while she participates in the protest.

“I can’t afford to drive up here and hold a babysitter,” she said, though she hopes to win back to Duncan later in the week to supply daycare for students out of school — so she could also spend the days with her own. By the stop of the day Tuesday, Duncan had voted to stay closed through Friday.

Carolyn Robbins, school principal at Peggs Public School — “and custodian, bus monitor, counselor, and ring leader,” said a colleague at her elbow — also expressed a desire to win back to school within the week, to acquire certain students from poorer families don’t proceed hungry. The Oklahoma City public school district alone is providing food at more than one hundred locations to anyone under the age of 18, no ID essential.

“Most of our kids need meals,” she said. “But they also hold a dire need for funding for textbooks, computers, and original buses to handle our dirt roads.”

High-stakes tests for students are also coming up, as aspiring college students seize the SAT and ACT this month, then Advanced Placement exams in May. Some educators thought that staging the strike ahead of the exams would throw the problem into relief, spurring anxious parents to seize action and rally behind the teachers.

“I contemplate the strike is going to hold a lot of positive and negative consequences,” said Max Blakey, 17, who takes both exams next week. “Students failing their tests will acquire parents super mad. And inflamed parents will win legislators’ attention.”

Blakey said he was “super proud” of his teachers for striking, and of the turnout. More than 30,000 teachers and supporters swarmed the capitol early in the week, taking over the rotunda inside and setting up tents and chairs on the grounds.

Su Cag, 16, and Takin Kilgore, 16, sat on a picnic blanket holding up a sign with a Drake meme from “Hotline Bling.” Both will also seize the nationally administered tests in coming weeks. They said they’re nervous, but that their teachers sent them domestic with many practice tests, and they support the strike.

Su Cag, 16, and Takin Kilgore, 16, feel the strike is essential and are glad their teachers “are finally doing something.” Both are slated to seize the SAT and AP exams next week. Their teachers gave them lots of seize-domestic practice tests. https://t.co/OSjVjbpFjx

Su Cag, 16, and Takin Kilgore, 16, feel the strike is essential and are glad their teachers “are finally doing something.” Both are slated to seize the SAT and AP exams next week. Their teachers gave them lots of seize-domestic practice tests. https://t.co/OSjVjbpFjx

While not entire teachers could afford or manage to reach to the main rally at the capitol building beyond the first or moment days, some are also holding protests in their towns. But teachers worry that scattered actions are less visible than a critical mass of bodies at the statehouse and signs left on lawmakers’ doors.

And even in Oklahoma City, teachers commented angrily Tuesday approximately how some state legislators avoided speaking directly to them, despite their literally camping out external their offices.

One representative, Republican Kevin McDugle, received criticism for lashing out at the teachers’ choice of tactics in a viral video Tuesday and threatening to shut the public galleries to statehouse chambers.

“They reach into this House, they want to act this way — I’m not voting for another stinking degree when they’re acting the way they’re acting,” he said in a Facebook Live video.

“You’re losing support of people who supported you entire year long,” he continued. “Now you’re going to reach here and act like this after you got a raise?”

McDugle was referring to a bill legislators passed final week, which would give teachers an average of a $6,000 raise. Teachers say the increase would bring them in line with what they would be making whether it hadn’t been for years of austerity funding, but that the bill lacked funding for classroom supplies and other staff, like custodians and aides for students with special needs.

“proceed ahead, be pissed at me whether you want to,” McDugle said in the video.

The lawmaker later took down the post and apologized, before implying that external agitators were responsible for the strike shuttering public schools across his state.

“I will continue to vote for teachers, but I will divulge you this: I don’t approve of some of the things that are being done here, and it’s not necessarily Oklahoma teachers that are doing it,” he said, local media station KOCO first reported.

The majority-female workforce of teachers, which has not had an across-the-board raise in over a decade, is calling for a $10,000 raise over three years, as well as a $5,000 raise for support staff. Teachers are also asking for $200 million over three years in school funding, for things like classroom supplies, and $500 million over three years in funding for public employees. They hold plenty of ideas for where the money could reach from, including taxes on capital gains, gambling, oil, and wind energy.

Dennis Gentry, who teaches fifth grade at Orvis Risner Elementary in Edmond, Oklahoma, held a sign that read, “nowadays, I’m teaching legislators.” He made it into the capitol, despite the long lines, and managed to speak to two representatives.

“The House is blaming the Senate and the Senate is blaming the House,” he said. “They’re not ready to give on each other,” when it comes to determining how to pay for more education funding.

Gentry said that he also spoke to House Rep. Karen Gaddis.

“Her advice is that we ‘remember in November,’” he said.

The Oklahoma strike also coincides with a strike by teachers in Kentucky, where public employees are protesting cuts to their pension plans, included at the eleventh hour in a sewage bill.


Bill Pugliano / Getty Images

Annie McIntosh, who currently works in higher education for the University of Oklahoma commerce, trade School, and her husband Justin, an elementary school teacher, are both on strike. They said they are typical teachers in that the two set up GoFundMe and DonorsChoose pages to crowdfund supplies for their students and classrooms, and work other jobs to pay their bills.

“Justin’s car was nearly repossessed after we had missed two payments in the drop, and I had a health scare that, despite both our insurances, drove us a couple thousand into medical debt,” McIntosh said. “We knew this was a section of growing up. No teacher goes into this field expecting to acquire a fortune. But it was really tough.”

final week, KIPP Chicago offered a teaching job to Justin McIntosh with an annual salary of $56,100 — $24,000 more than he was currently making, and nearly equaling the McIntoshes’ combined incomes. He plans to accept, fitting section of the exodus of teachers from the state — a major reason cited for the strike. Monday, the first day of the walkout, was his birthday.

“I’m hoping one of the gifts he gets is a bill that provides a neutral salary and income for our educator friends and coworkers in Oklahoma,” Annie wrote in an email to BuzzFeed News. “I’m just sorry to say that that gift will be too belated for us.”


Bill Pugliano / Getty Images

Cora Lewis is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in original York.

Contact Cora Lewis at cora.lewis@buzzfeed.com.

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