Dozens of public school teachers, parents and students converged at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Richmond on Monday morning for a “Demand Safe Schools” motor march in support of a virtual start to the school year.
Clad in bright red shirts and pins emblazoned with #RedForEd — a slogan that has become a chorus of the nationwide movement for educational equity — demonstrators came out from across Virginia to attend the march, which was organized by Virginia Educators United for the National Day of Resistance.
Brian Teucke, a teacher at Gloucester Public Schools, loaded his two dogs into his Honda Accord and drove out to the middle school parking lot on Monday morning. Gloucester has already voted in favor of a fully online start to the semester, so Tuecke attended the rally to stand in solidarity with Virginia teachers facing an in-person school year — a decision he sees as “flirting with danger.”
Richmond, Henrico and Chesterfield school officials all decided that their respective divisions will start the 2020-21 school year virtually. Hanover County is giving parents a choice between face-to-face learning in school or virtual learning.
Dozens of Virginia school districts have opted for a hybrid schooling environment, in which students attend in-person for certain days and online for others.
Still, a virtual start to the school year is just one of the demands put forth by Virginia Educators United.
The coalition of educators is also calling for “necessary funding and supports to effectively implement online learning, including paid sick and family leave, an extension of the $600 unemployment benefits bump, rent forgiveness and mortgage forbearance, universal healthcare, and government-funded financial support for those who do not qualify for unemployment benefits,” according to a news release sent out by the group.
Carla Okouchi, a march organizer and teacher for Fairfax County Public Schools, said the demands address the country’s concurrent and ongoing economic, racial and health crises.
Demonstrators drove to Richmond because “that’s where all the funding starts,” she said.
As drivers started their cars to embark on their procession to the Virginia Capitol, Christine Melendez, a Spanish teacher for Chesterfield County Public Schools, finished taping the last of her card stock posters to her lime green car.
The main message of her signs — in English and Spanish — was “only when it’s safe,” or “solo quando sea seguro.”
Like Okouchi and Teucke, Melendez’s school has decided to go online, but there’s a caveat: Teachers must instruct from their normal classrooms, not their home.
As a healthy individual without children or elderly relatives at home, Melendez said she’s personally comfortable with the decision, but she worries for teachers without that security.
“There should be a choice [for those teachers],” she said. “It only takes one person.”