JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. (WDRB) -- Thousands of Indiana teachers are planning a show of force as state lawmakers return to Indianapolis to prepare for next year's legislative session on Nov. 19, prompting dozens of school districts to preemptively close for that day's "Red for Ed Action Day" at the Capitol.
Greater Clark County Schools, Jennings County School Corporation and Madison Consolidated Schools are among more than 30 Indiana school districts shutting down for the day so educators can demonstrate in Indianapolis that day, when lawmakers are organizing for the 2020 legislative session that begins Jan. 14.
The response from educators to the planned Nov. 19 rally has been "overwhelming," said Keith Gambill, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association. The group says at least 4,000 have signed up for the effort so far.
The point, teachers who spoke to WDRB News said, is to ensure that public education issues are front and center ahead of next year's session.
"The state has the ability to do more to support public education," Gambill said. "Our decision this year was instead of waiting until the legislature was in session to come forward with our positions and our ideas, it would be better to do that before they actually go into session in January."
Indiana teachers have several issues they'd like to see legislators tackle in next year's session.
Gambill said ISTA is focused on pushing for higher teacher pay, holding schools and districts harmless for the latest ILEARN assessment results, ending the practice of tying teacher evaluations to standardized test scores, and repealing the recently enacted requirement that educators complete 15-hour "externships" with businesses as part of the renewal process for their teaching licenses.
"It's teacher pay; it's class sizes; it's aging infrastructure," said Mark Felix, president of the Greater Clark Education Association. "There's so many things that public education needs right now, and I'm sure most the legislators are aware of it, but we have to remind them that this is urgent."
"We just want the legislature to know that we are not going away, that we are here to say," he added.
GCCS announced that it will have an eLearning Day on Feb. 17 to make up for the upcoming closure.
Jennings County will also have a make-up day on Feb. 17, and students at Madison Consolidated Schools will have an eLearning Day on Nov. 19 rather than holding regular classes, although the buildings will remain open for students who prefer to work in supervised, open study spaces. The district says transportation and meals will be provided.
New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated Schools announced on Nov. 10 that classes will be canceled on Nov. 19 so its teachers can join others at the state capitol.
Clarksville Community Schools isn't closing, but the district's local union has established a delegate system to allow teachers to be among the thousands of red-clad educators set to greet the General Assembly in Indianapolis that day.
Two of the delegates are Clarksville Education Association leaders and at least five teachers have signed up as delegates so far, CEA President Christina Schotter said.
Clarksville teachers who don't make it to Indianapolis will walk out of their schools at the end of the day at 3:30 p.m. and ask staff and students to join them in wearing red, CEA Secretary Sally Wade said, adding that they are also looking to schedule a community rally.
"We'll be sending delegates up to join the rally in Indianapolis, and we'll be doing what we can from here at home to support public" education, Wade said.
While a number of Clarksville teachers want to be in Indianapolis, Wade said they felt "torn" between rallying at the Capitol and being in their classrooms with their students.
"They could take a personal day and they could be up there advocating for their students or they could be physically present teaching their students," she said.
The Nov. 19 gathering will be the first demonstration by teachers during a school day while lawmakers are at the Capitol. In March, educators held a rally in Indianapolis on a Saturday rather than during the week.
But Nov. 19 will mark the most visible action by Indiana educators as they've tried to get the General Assembly's attention on issues they see as critical to their profession, Gambill said.
"For some of our lawmakers, we believe that our message is falling on deaf ears, so we're using the 19th to make sure that they hear us loud and clear," he said.
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