Mar 14, 2012 12:07 AM by Maddie Garrett

Some Schools Closing as Teachers Set to Rally in Capitol

Hundreds, if not thousands, of teachers from all over Louisiana are planning to rally in Baton Rouge Wednesday and Thursday to protest the Governor's education reform plans.

The number of Acadiana teachers planning to attend the rally has led some parishes to cancel public school. Jeff Davis Parish will be closed Wednesday and St. Martin and Vermilion Parishes will be closed Thursday. All other Acadiana parish schools will remain open this week.

Many teachers said they're still planning to make the trip to the capitol even though school won't be cancelled in their parishes. Lafayette Parish said it already has a plan in place to handle roughly 20% of its teachers being out of school on Thursday.

"We're willing to fight for our profession," said Karen Martin, who represents the Lafayette Association of Educators.

In Lafayette Parish alone, about 500 teachers told the administration they want to rally in protest on Thursday in the State Capitol.

"We respect the teachers' right to participate in what I think is a very democratic process, it's called our legislature," said Lafayette Parish School Superintendent Dr. Pat Cooper.

The teachers' complaints center around Governor Bobby Jindal's proposed changes to teacher evaluations, tenure and retirement plans.

"Even though changes come and go in our profession, we're willing to fight for things that are right and it needs to be fair and equitable," said Martin. "and we don't see fair or equitable issues in any of that legislation."

While the teachers are rallying, Cooper said retired teachers, volunteers, administrators and substitute teachers will conduct class. However only certified substitute teachers will be paid.

"So we feel like we can cover the needs of those students in those schools," he said.

But the administration does have one stipulation in all this, that teacher's who want to go to the rally do so in the proper manner by taking personal leave and not calling in sick. He said teachers need to notify the administration, prepare a lesson plan and arrange for a substitute.

"All we're asking is that they participate in that process in an orderly fashion," said Cooper.

Cooper said if parents aren't comfortable sending their children to school Thursday, their absence will be excused.

"The purpose of us doing that is to allow parents to make some choices. But what they need to know is we want their children at school, we think they'll have a good day at school, they'll learn and we want them to be there with us," explained Cooper.

Governor Jindal's office made this statement Tuesday in regard to teacher's protesting and LEAP testing next week:

"The reality is that action is needed now. 44 percent of Louisiana's public schools received a grade or D or F last year. Louisiana's 4th and 8th graders ranked among the bottom in English and Math when compared to other states. In 2010 there were 230,000 students in Louisiana below grade level - one third of all students in public school.

Does the coalition of the status quo not recognize the urgent need to improve Louisiana's schools for Louisiana's students?"

On Wednesday the House Education Committee will take up House Bill 974 and on Thursday the Senate's counterpart committee will consider HB 974's companion legislation, Senate Bill 603. The bills call for major changes to the way teachers are hired and fired, as well as changes in tenure.



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