… and plan a sick-out that closes 9 Arizona schools
Wednesday’s historic teacher sick-out that closed down nine Arizona elementary schools started with two teachers venting their usual frustrations on a Dutch Bros. Coffee run the morning before.
Kassandra Dominguez, a first-grade teacher at Sunset Ridge Elementary School in Glendale, told her colleague, kindergarten teacher Jackie Lake, that she had spent $45 out her own pocket buying materials for a parent event.
Dominguez spent the money because she cares about her students, but the amount was significant considering her annual earnings: $38,600 for a teacher who has a master’s degree and five years’ experience in the classroom and teaching abroad.
Dominguez was tired of it — the hard work and personal investment commonly expected of teachers in return for low pay that consistently ranks Arizona at or near the bottom nationally.
Lake was tired, too.
Both of them, like the thousands of teachers fueling Arizona’s grassroots #RedForEd movement, knew of colleagues who were qualified to teach, but chose to leave the profession partly because of the state’s low pay.
They thought about doing something to send a silent message. The Arizona Education Association was organizing a rally at the state Capitol mainly intended for teachers whose schools were on spring break. Sunset Ridge, part of the Pendergast Elementary School District, had the break the week before.
Dominguez and Lake thought about calling in sick the next day. Instead of going to school, they would go to the Capitol, make their own silent statement, come back to school the next day and move on.
In the end, 350 teachers in the Pendergast district — which spans parts of Phoenix and the West Valley — would not show up to work Wednesday, forcing the district to close down nine of its 12 schools for the day.
‘This ripple effect’
Later Tuesday morning, as Dominguez and Lake arrived at Sunset Ridge, other teachers began to hear about their discussion.
A couple of teachers heard them talking about their potential plans in the school’s copy room. Dominguez posted on her Facebook account asking her friends if anyone planned to attend Wednesday’s event at the Capitol.
They both promised each other they would follow through if the other did, too.
“I’ll go if you go, because I’m tired of it. It starts with us,” Dominguez remembers Lake saying.
That morning, Lake took over Dominguez’s class so Dominguez could go to all of the other classrooms at the K-8 school to let them know what they had planned.
Other teachers agreed with the duo’s frustrations. Some were excited. Many were frightened, Dominguez said. They were unsure how a sick-out would affect their jobs.
But the Sunset Ridge teachers, one by one, began to commit to the plan after Dominguez and Lake made their case.
“It went back to Mrs. Lake and I telling them if it doesn’t start with us, if we don’t do this ripple effect, it’s not gonna happen because all of the teachers are going to be scared or they’re going to say, ‘I can’t picture doing it,’ ” Dominguez said.
Teachers at nine schools sign on
By early afternoon, all but four of the school’s nearly 30 teachers had signed on to call in sick Wednesday.
Sunset Ridge teachers told teachers at other schools in the district about what they planned to do.
Ralph Quintana, a teacher in the neighboring Glendale Elementary School District and president of the Arizona Federation of Teachers, said he received a text about the planned sick-out at about 11:30 a.m. It was about four hours after Dominguez and Lake had gotten Dutch Bros. coffee.
By 4 p.m. Tuesday, four Pendergast schools had signed on, Quintana said. By 8 p.m., it was six schools.
“I got off social media 12 a.m. last night. By the time I woke up, it was nine schools,” Quintana said. “It was unbelievable.”
Dominguez told her principal, Brian Winefsky, during school that most of the teachers planned to call in sick the next day and he should consider making arrangements.
She said neither Winefsky nor Lily DeBlieux, the Pendergast district superintendent, approached or encouraged teachers to walk out of school. Nonetheless, Winefsky offered support for Dominguez and other teachers to let their voices be heard.
“He basically has told us we need to do what we need to do for us,” Dominguez said.
As district officials began to identify similar sick-out plans in other schools, they sent out a robocall to all the parents of Pendergast’s 10,000 students.
The call let parents know that their teachers might not show up to school Wednesday. If parents decided to keep their child home that day, their student would not be punished. The district said it would do everything it could to ensure students’ safety. But if the schools didn’t have the personnel to do so, parents would be contacted again to pick their son or daughter up from school.
Sunset Ridge appeared empty the next morning as the first bell rang. A crossing guard at one of the nearby intersections had been waiting for students since 6 a.m., as he always does. But few of them showed up.
The students stayed home. The teachers were at the Capitol.
Republic reporters Lily Altavena and Ryan Santistevan contributed to this article.
Written by Richard Cano and published by The Arizona Republic ~ March 22, 2018.
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