Schools in Virginia shut down last week as public health experts advised against large gatherings that can accelerate the spread of the coronavirus.
So students at Chesterfield High School and others in the area decided to hold a large rally at the district headquarters to demand higher pay for their teachers, who have spent the last month pushing for bigger raises than the 2 percent increase proposed for the 2021 budget.
The Chesterfield Observer reports:
More than 70 students from high schools across Chesterfield participated in a spirited rally outside the five-story county administration building Friday morning, carrying brightly colored handmade signs and chanting loudly enough that several employees looked out their office windows to see what was happening.
Plans for a teacher “sick out” for Friday where thwarted when the district closed schools and requested teachers prepare homebound learning materials for the prolonged coronavirus shutdown.
Gov. Ralph Northam ordered all of the state’s schools closed by Monday, through March 27, WAVY reports.
Thomas Dale High School senior Emerson Pessarra told the Observer she helped to organize the protest because she thinks her teachers deserve a big raise. Pessarra and classmate Deja Williams got the word out on Instagram, and it quickly snowballed into a big deal.
“I’m sure everyone would say they’ve had at least one teacher who has been super impactful on their life,” Williams told the Observer. “We believe they’re valuable and should be paid a livable wage that allows them to continue doing a job they love.”
The news site didn’t bother to ask whether students were concerned about how their actions might contribute to the deadly virus sweeping the globe. The Richmond Times-Dispatch also did not reference the potential health concerns of the large rally.
“Our teachers may not have been able to use their voices to protest today, so we are using ours,” Tayler Butters, another senior at Thomas Dale, told the Observer. “They have invested so much in us and now it’s our turn to return the favor.”
Students received glowing praise from Chesterfield Education Association President Sonia Smith, who described the outing as “a beautiful thing.”
“I’ve never been more touched by a collective action than I was by what I witnessed from our young people,” Smith said. “They are keenly aware of the needs. When a teacher comes into a classroom and is stressed or overburdened, they pick up on that and they care.”
The protest surfaced as other affiliates of the nation’s largest teachers union and others pushed to close schools over the coronavirus. Public health officials are warning against gatherings of 10 people or more and recommending social distancing and isolation to slow the spread of the virus.
The virus has also disrupted union labor negotiations in other places, including the abrupt end to a teachers strike in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Union officials there admitted school closures tied to the coronavirus forced union negotiators to re-evaluate and relent on some issues.