The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 73/No. 42      November 2, 2009

Washington teachers,
students fight firings
WASHINGTON—Several thousand unionists and supporters held a rally here October 8 protesting the firing of 388 teachers and other school workers in early October. The main demand was that the workers, including 229 teachers, be reinstated.

The employees have been placed on administrative leave and will be dropped from the payroll November 2. In some cases they were escorted out of school by cops.

Several hundred students and their parents participated in the rally. Some 200 students protested three days earlier at McKinley Technology High School against the layoffs of teachers. Senior Kelvin Sherman told the Militant that he did not believe the teachers were being laid off because of poor performance. “They are being laid off because they stood up for us,” he said.

The October 8 protest was called by the Washington Teachers Union (WTU) and supported by local unions and top AFL-CIO officials. Union-sponsored buses brought students, parents, and hundreds of workers wearing T-shirts from several unions, including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; Communications Workers of America; United Food and Commercial Workers; and the WTU. There were also delegations of teachers from Prince Georges and Montgomery counties in neighboring Maryland.

Many of the students brought homemade signs saying, “Save Our Education” and “Support Our Teachers.” Teachers carried placards saying, “Let us teach.” One of the most popular chants was, “ABCD, keep our teachers layoff free.”

A 28-year veteran teacher told the Militant, “Enough is enough! This is the end of the line for me. I’m here to support my coworkers and my union. We need to be in the streets.”

“We’re here strong and united,” said Sheila, a student at Spingarn High School. “Because [schools chancellor] Michelle Rhee messed up the funds shouldn’t mean the students and teachers have to suffer. We are about learning. They should fix the budget with no layoffs.”

A laid-off janitor said, “The administration has no respect for the teachers, students, or us. We want respect for our contribution to the education of the young people. I hate it that the teachers were escorted out by the cops. They treated them like they were criminals. We aren’t the criminals, they are.”

Most of the protesters’ fire was directed at Washington mayor Adrian Fenty and Chancellor Rhee, who had announced that the firings were to close a $43.9 million gap in the school budget.

Rhee claims layoffs are necessary because of a need for “continued right-sizing” of the system. Since the end of 2008, 23 schools have been shut down, leaving the city with “too many” school personnel, including custodians, librarians, social workers, and guidance counselors, she says.

The cuts come after the city council slashed $20.7 million from the 2010 budget.
Related articles:
The working class and the fight for education
On the Picket Line
Workers in Puerto Rico strike over mass layoffs
Quebec meat packers strike against concessions
Nursing home workers demand contract  
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