OC teachers: Where is your voice?

Posted: Wednesday, May 17, 2017 3:24 pm

Dear Editor, 

Amidst the controversy of the dress code on May 8, leaders in the Orange County Schools stepped forward to encourage teachers to speak up by passing the Resolution to Protect Teacher Free Speech Rights.

Last year, a local advocacy group called Orange County Strong formed to advocate for public schools in Orange County. Surprisingly, there was no unified voice in favor of public schools in Orange County. In 2016, while the CH-CCS School Board elections were hotly contested, several seats on the Orange County School Board were not. In fact, only one of the four seats had any opposition. Our county operates in two distinct districts.

After hosting a candidate debate in Hillsborough and offering several community information sessions about public school issues, Orange County Strong connected with the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) and became part of a large state-wide coalition. These partners formed to embark on a campaign called #SchoolsOurStudentsDeserve. The campaign centers on the idea that our students are currently short-changed by the NCGA which has failed to reinstate per pupil spending to prerecession levels. When schools are not adequately funded, everyone suffers. In Orange County, our county commissioners have consistently stepped up to fill the funding gap – often by raising local taxes, and last year, with a bond referendum. When counties have to make these difficult decisions, an undue burden is placed on communities that have diverse needs.

Passing this resolution to protect teacher’s free speech right is so important because local leaders believe teachers should be organized and vocal advocates for our schools. Teachers should feel empowered to stand up for policies that put students first, yet many say they fear retribution if they speak up. Many teachers think they are not allowed to be politically active. Clearly this is not the case in Orange County. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools passed the resolution last spring and now that Orange County has followed, we hope to hear more from our teachers about what elected officials at all levels should do for our students. Teachers, parents, and students should be willing to hold those in office accountable for our sacred institution, public schools.

Allison Mahaley,

Founder Orange County Strong