GREENSBORO — Students in Guilford County Schools won’t have classes May 1 after more than 1,300 teachers and staff asked for the day off to rally in Raleigh for education issues.

May 1 will be an optional teacher workday, the Guilford County Board of Education decided Tuesday night in a unanimous vote.

The board turned June 11, a previously scheduled teacher workday for most schools, into a student day, extending the school year which was supposed to end on June 7.

Some schools that are not on the traditional calendar will substitute one of their previously scheduled workdays instead of June 11.

At least 1,100 teachers have requested the day off from Guilford County Schools on May 1 to rally for state action on education and health care coverage, Guilford County Association of Educators leaders said earlier Tuesday.

Superintendent Sharon Contreras also confirmed that more than 1,000 teachers had asked for the day off, as well as 200 food service staff and 40 bus drivers.

“There is no way we could functionally run schools,” Contreras told the board.

GCAE members in the audience broke out in cheers when the votes were announced.

The district wound up canceling school for a similar event sponsored by the North Carolina Association of Educators last year.

This year’s event, “NCAE Strong: All Out for May 1,” aims to bring school staff from across North Carolina to rally in the state capital. The top issues: better pay and benefits for school staff, better student-to-professional ratios of counselors, librarians and others in schools, and expansion of Medicaid in North Carolina.

GCAE leaders tie in Medicaid expansion by pointing out that unaddressed health issues for children’s families and staff families hinder education in the schools.

The group held a news conference in front of the district administration building Tuesday afternoon before the board meeting. Some members also spoke during the public comment period at the board meeting, urging the school district to go ahead and close school to leave families more time to prepare.

“We are not going to be swayed, we are going to stay the course and we are going to win this thing,” GCAE president Todd Warren told board members. “Our fight is not with you.”

Board members recommended putting the closure on the agenda right after the public comment period.

In an interview, GCAE district organizer Leah Hendershot said in its latest survey of its members at all the schools, the group had tallied 1,318 requests for either personal days or annual leave.

Annual leave requests could come from other “certified” staff, and the personal day requests come from teachers, she explained. Some classified staff, such as cafeteria workers, also plan to attend the May 1 event, she said, but are not reflected in these totals.

Page cafeteria

Members of the Page High School community once again showed up to express concerns about the state of their cafeteria and its inability to serve students within the allotted lunch times. They want funding for renovation and expansion of the space.

Spanish teacher Saletta Ureña said she has tried to enforce the “no eating in the classroom” rule in her class, only to realize that this is beyond a normal behavior issue and that students are eating in class or showing up tardy because they just did not have enough time to get lunch.

“When my kiddos tell me the reasons that their lunch spills into my classroom I can’t be upset with the reasons,” she said, stressing that lunch issues go beyond lunch. “It’s about more — It’s about the very real effects of hunger on attention and comprehension.”

Page parent Kimberly Jones said her son had been assigned a lunch period last school year that involved 10 minutes of lunch, then a class, then another 15 minutes of lunch.

“To say that is the most ludicrous thing I’ve ever heard of is an understatement,” she said.

Meeting schedule

Later in the meeting school board members voted 5-4 to change their meeting schedule for next year to substitute work sessions for some school board meetings.

Work sessions typically focus in-depth on a particular topic, and bring relevant staff to the table to join the conversation with board members. Like regular board meetings, work sessions are open to the public.

Under the meeting calendar adopted for 2019-20, the board will have 13 regular meetings, five work sessions, two budget meetings, four retreats and two student assignment meetings.

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Contact Jessie Pounds at 336-373-7002 and follow @JessiePounds on Twitter.

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