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School's Out
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School's Out

City schools close after teachers take day off.

— After 300 teacher requests for leave on March 8 flooded in, Alexandria City Public Schools decided to close school on Wednesday. The mass protest of Alexandria teachers coincides with International Women’s Day and a call from the organizer’s of the Women’s March earlier this year for “A Day Without Women.” The strike aims to highlight inequalities women face in the workplace, from wage disparity to sexual harassment.

According to Helen Lloyd, director of communications at Alexandria City Public Schools, the schools were made aware of the potential protest late last week. Lloyd said principals and administrators at each of the schools were contacted and told ACPS they had concerns about the school’s ability to safely monitor students with 300 teachers missing and not enough substitutes to compensate.

Lloyd said that the schools do not have to grant annual leave, but that the school has a policy of always granting personal leave.

“This is unprecedented,” said Lloyd, “we’ve never had so many staff out. We don't have a policy to deny them leave. This for us indicates that we might have to look at that.”

Lloyd said the school day will function as a teacher work day. Staff must either show up or take leave for the day. No makeup days for the strike will be required.

Former council member Frank Fannon issued the following statement on March 7: “The selfish actions of 300 teachers and staff has caused the lives of thousands of Alexandrians to be disrupted on Wednesday. Working parents will be scrambling for childcare and will suffer lost wages for missing work, many of these women living paycheck to paycheck. These same teachers, who will paid for skipping work, will be at City Hall next week asking for more of our tax dollars in the city budget to fund the most expensive per pupil school system in the region where a obviously lack of leadership and fiscal responsibility exists.”

As the schools shut down, recreation centers across the city scrambled to open. Six of the city’s recreation departments were opened to receive students between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. For parents not previously registered for the recreation centers, the walk-in fee is $15.

Jim Spangler, director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, said the recreation centers will only be able to handle a maximum of 1,400 elementary school-aged students.

“We only have room for 200 more kids than we already take after school,” said Spangler. “We had to scramble because we didn't know in advance. It's going to be first come, first serve.”

Spangler said the department wasn't anticipating a major problem, the recreation centers are not typically overcrowded on other teacher work days, but Spangler also noted that the suddenness of the announcement could mean more parents desperate to find an alternative solution.

Prince George’s County Public Schools announced March 7 that it would also close. Fairfax and Arlington schools remained open.

“I understand their concerns, but other jurisdictions are figuring it out,” said Mayor Allison Silberberg. “I respect the boundaries between the city and the schools, but as a citizen I’m very concerned about this. I want those children in school.”