Teachers groups comment on school closings

Two teachers associations released a joint statement regarding the closing of several school systems Wednesday:

Due to the outpouring of public concern surrounding Governor Jindal's extreme education agenda, several school systems have announced their intentions to close Wednesday so that educators can attend House and Senate Education Committee hearings. These shutdowns are not the result of any calls to action by the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT) or the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE). This is the direct result of calls by the governor to dismantle Louisiana's public schools.

"Both organizations asked for member representatives from our respective groups to attend these important hearings," said LFT President Steve Monaghan. "We never called for the closing of entire school systems."

"You would think that the governor would want to give school employees a voice in this process, after all the constitution affords us that right," said LAE President Joyce Haynes. "Louisiana educators would rather be in the classrooms with their students than attending hearings at the Capitol, but when the intent is to attack these hard working professionals by calling for punitive changes in state requirements for teacher certification, salaries, seniority and due process rights, teachers will stand up to defend their students and their careers."

Some have attempted to shift the blame onto teachers for this week's school closings, but teachers do not control school district policy. The decision to close schools was made not by union leaders, but by school boards and administrators, many of whom will join teachers at the Capitol this week.

"The real focus here should be finding out why school boards, superintendents and parents plan on joining teachers in opposition to the governor," said Monaghan.

An even more important question to ponder is what's the real cause of the actions being taken by educators, parents, school board members and administrators? The answer is the fuse that was lit by the governor when he produced such a complex education agenda without any involvement of the education stakeholders or school boards. The legislation brought forth in House Bill 974 and Senate Bill 603, calls for punitive changes in state requirements surrounding teacher certification, salaries, seniority and tenure –  educators stand to lose all due process rights if they receive just one ineffective rating. The legislation exempts private, parochial and charter schools from the same accountability measures that other schools receiving public dollars must follow, and calls for the elimination of the teacher salary schedule. It also calls for creating a dismissal process for teachers based on the flawed method of teacher evaluation brought forth in ACT 54.

"If the governor's agenda is successful it will radically redefine public education to the point of extinction," said Haynes.

Why is the governor demanding such an early vote on a series of long and complex bills? And why are the House and Senate Education Committees determined to ram these through the legislature without an open and transparent debate? It is the Louisiana Legislature's responsibility to schedule a fair hearing process that allows constituent input on bills that affect them. Legislators should have made the appropriate move to schedule these hearings when teachers are available to attend – like in the evenings or on the weekends - instead of forcing them to attend during a school day.

"We are asking legislators to postpone the passage of these extreme bills," said Monaghan.

"Educators must be given the opportunity to meet with the governor and state superintendent of education in order to collaborate on ideas for the future of education in Louisiana," added Haynes.

Both teachers groups are prepared to testify at the Louisiana State Capitol on Wednesday morning to express their opposition to House Bills 976, 974 and 933.

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