NEWTON COUNTY — North Newton and South Newton School Corporations will be among hundreds of other school districts around the state that will be closed Nov. 19 as many teachers and staff members are headed to the statehouse for what could turn out to be the largest teacher rally in state history.
While it is common for the Indiana State Teachers Association to hold rallies or action days at the statehouse, those are usually mid-session. This Red for Ed rally is targeted to get legislators’ attention before the session, and more importantly, is scheduled for a school day to bring even more attention to their fight to increase public education funding.
As of Nov. 10, more than 7,000 teachers had registered for the rally, while weather and other factors could affect attendance, Keith Gambill, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said “If even half as many of those who have registered so far show up, it would likely be the largest teacher rally in state history.”
“For the past 10 years, teachers have been writing, e-mailing, calling and meeting with our legislators to discuss the lack of proper funding for public schools,” said Blair DiRuzza, president South Newton Education Association. “That communication has fallen on deaf ears. It is time we show up in person at the Statehouse and demand more funding. If they can increase private school funding by 9 percent and charter school funding by 10 percent, then they can do the same for our rural public schools. Our students deserve it just as much!”
South Newton has 34 teachers signed up to go to the rally, while North Newton has close to 40 teachers attending.
Because of the large number of teachers planning to attend the rally, a shortage in substitute teachers and to show full united support, the administrations at both schools decided to be closed Nov. 19.
“None of us really wanted to cancel school, but this could be the one shot that we have to make a real difference for public education,” said South Newton Superintendent Casey Hall. “This movement is not just for teachers’ pay, this is for funding for public education. Money for vouchers comes from public taxpayers and a lot of that money is going to private and charter schools. That money should be going to public schools. The administration, the school board and faculty are 100 percent united for this initiative Nov. 19.”
South Newton sent out a letter to staff and parents Nov. 8 announcing its plans to be closed for Nov. 19.
“November 19 is an exciting day for educators across the state of Indiana,” stated the letter. “Many educators, administrators, community members, parents and supporters of public education will be attending a rally at the Statehouse to advocate for our schools and the future of public education. It is important to understand that the decision to make our presence known at the Statehouse rather than being with our students is not an easy one. We would much rather be at school teaching our students. Many South Newton School Corporation teachers will be participating in the ‘Red for Ed Action Day’ in order to advocate for our schools and the future of public education. The General Assembly has passed legislation that has resulted in inadequate funding, excessively high stakes standardized testing and teacher shortages. Public schools have worked tirelessly for many years to combat these issues but have not been heard. ‘Red for Ed Action Day’ is a day all parties can join together in a united front to show the legislators that action needs to be taken on these issues.”
The school day will be made up May 29, 2020, as an e-learning day was not an option.
“Many of our teachers won’t be able to respond to students during the day so that is why we chose not to do an e-learning day,” added Hall. “That day is for the teachers to make a stand for public education and using an e-learning day would defeat the purpose of that day.”
North Newton Superintendent Cathy Rowe sent a letter out Nov. 8 announcing plans for the school corporation to be closed Nov. 19
“As you may be aware, several school corporations in Indiana are experiencing numerous anticipated teacher absences for Tuesday, November 19, 2019, as teachers make plans to join fellow colleagues in rallying at the Indiana Statehouse,” the letter stated. “This Red for Ed Action rally is being coordinated during American Education Week, to support education in Indiana as teachers advocate for increased education funding and other education changes that benefit students and schools. North Newton School Corporation teachers are interested in showing their support for their colleagues and are requesting leave in great numbers for November 19th. As a result, we have numerous classrooms that do not have substitute teacher coverage, nor will they have coverage due to the district having insufficient numbers of substitute teachers to cover all classrooms. Without adequate substitutes and personnel to cover classrooms, it will be difficult to meet the academic and supervisory needs of our students. While we strive to make each day count, it will be quite difficult for students to experience a meaningful educational experience on November 19 without teachers. Due to the lack of adequate teacher attendance on Tuesday, November 19 we will be canceling school for this day. We will make up this day of school on Friday 14, 2020. We are keenly aware of the effects this cancellation has on you and your family and wanted to notify you as soon as possible so you would be able to arrange childcare or make other arrangements if needed. North Newton School Corporation teachers care very deeply for their students and for many teachers, the decision to miss school has been a difficult choice. As caring educators, they feel they must advocate for the students, school and corporation to make changes that increase funding for programs and schools, reduce burdensome unfunded mandates and support public education- not private or charter.”
North Newton is also showing their solidarity in the support of increased public school funding as the school corporation has lost over $7.6 million in funding over the last 10 years.
“If the decrease in funding continues, rural communities such as ours, will be forced with difficult decisions that include closing schools,” said Kelly Petri, North Newton Education Association president. “State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick has been trying to bring awareness, but to no avail. The legislators need to hear from all members of the community that school funding is supported and our students deserve more. The public needs to know how critical the situation is. Our rural schools are being hurt the most by poor decisions by the legislators. Teachers can no longer receive a raise based on years of experience, only based on a single test. The state needs to stop giving funding to charter schools, that are merely business ventures by corporations. If a charter school stops making a profit, they close the doors. This does not benefit any of the students in Indiana.”
The Nov. 19 event is set to run from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. (EST) It includes meeting with lawmakers, lunch, member stories and a march on the statehouse grounds.