Educators Keep Battling, Supporting Each Other After Spring #RedforEd Uprising

Librarians joined their colleagues across the country at rallies and protests, but as they fight for funding and change in public education, they must continue to battle for respect and understanding of their role in schools.

Photo courtesy Mark Jewell/North Carolina Association of Educators

This spring, thousands of red-clad educators took to the streets and marched on their state capitols to fight for funding for public education, and, in some cases, pay raises, pensions, more support staff, and a stop to the diversion of state money to charter schools. It started in West Virginia and spread to Arizona, Kentucky, Colorado, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and California.

While walkouts and strikes have happened in the past, this spring seemed more unified and more urgent.

“We’re recognizing now if we don’t speak up, if we aren’t the ones to do something about it, it may not ever be corrected. Now is the time,” says Jill McGlone, librarian at Cline, Campbell Ridge, and Crossroads Elementary Schools in Campbell County, KY.

It became the #RedforEd movement, with educators motivated by the actions of others.

“Obviously you get inspired,” McGlone says. “You see what happens in another state. You say, ‘Well, they’re standing up for themselves. They’re making things better for their kids. They’re doing what needs to be done. We should do that, too.’”

Educators gather in the Raleigh State Capitol rotunda. Photo courtesy Mark Jewell/North Carolina Association of Educators

Before North Carolina educators went to Raleigh for a planned rally, people from Arizona posted pictures of themselves wearing red and notes, “NC, we’re there with you,” according to Bitsy Griffin, library media coordinator at Old Town Global Academy in Winston-Salem, NC, and president-elect of the NC School Library Media Association.

“I find that really encouraging—that as a whole, we can make a much bigger statement and that we’re supporting each other,” says Griffin.

While every state has its own specific issues, a common problem is often an absence of librarians in the larger discussions of education and funding. Librarians stand side-by-side with their colleagues for respect and funding, while they also must fight for recognition and inclusion locally and nationally.

“I think, in general practice, there is definitely potential for isolation,” McGlone says of the place of librarians in their schools and districts. “Especially for me, traveling to different schools, it’s hard to build relationships with other teachers. That is an essential part of a strong school library program—having those relationships with teachers and having them realize the things you can accomplish together, that you can teach the student, that you can teach the teachers.

“As far as the political stuff, the rallies, I don’t think there’s any more or less invitation there for librarians, honestly. I identify as an educator. I prefer the term teacher librarian—that’s not what my district uses—just because it does bring awareness back.”

They all fight for that awareness of their role in schools, even those designated teacher librarian, such as Megan McQuinn, who works in the Denver Public Schools system.

“It would be really helpful if we could change the image of librarians across the country,” says McQuinn. “We’re not just the keepers of the books.”

The lack of understanding doesn’t just keep librarians from having a seat at the table in these discussions, but often means a loss of jobs. In McQuinn’s district, four certified teacher-librarian positions were cut this summer when principals ­decided to save money and have paraprofessionals run the libraries.

“There’s going to be no teaching, no technology, no makerspaces,” she says.

In Arizona, while the teachers received a pay raise, librarians were relegated to “support staff” and may benefit from “flexible dollars” in the package that could go to librarians, counselors, custodians, or others excluded from the pay package.

In Los Angeles, fliers for the teachers’ All In For Respect Rally included librarians in the key issues listed but once again grouped them with non-educator staff, including nurses, counselors, and psychologists.

In the big picture, all educators are in this together and the support from others buoys them through critical reaction to the spring’s actions that caused some schools to close.

“It takes this for people to notice,” says McQuinn, who participated in a rally in Colorado in April. She already sees an impact. Not only has education become a top subject in a contentious governor’s race, she is seeing lawn signs of support popping up around the city, and neighbors are asking her about the issues as well.

“People are listening,” she says. “People are paying attention more.”

Despite gaining some support outside of the education profession, disrupting the school schedule to rally or strike was met with disapproval and accusations. Teachers were called selfish, said to be abandoning their students, and, in one infamous statement by the Kentucky governor, blamed for sexual assault or drug use that he said would be a result of the kids being home instead of at school.

“We want to be there for kids, we want to be there,” says McGlone, whose school did not close because the ­Kentucky rally was during its spring break. “We know that it’s inconvenient for parents and every school day is very important.

“Honestly, we close down for snow days, for things that are for the best interest of our kids, and I feel like this is for the best interest of our kids.”

In North Carolina, Griffin says teachers have been going to the capitol to lobby legislators on the first day of their session every summer for years, but lawmakers weren’t paying attention.

“The only way to do it is to make it uncomfortable,” she says.

The summer will be spent trying to keep up the momentum. Not only will librarians and their fellow educators spend time as usual on professional development at conferences and in classes, or in many cases working second jobs, they will also continue to speak up for funding and pressure administrators and legislators to make changes.

McQuinn will keep pushing to be part of the conversation locally and statewide, including in how to spend new money coming into the system for next year. For Griffin, the focus is on making local legislators aware of the impact of quality library programs in schools.

“The next step for us is to get small groups of people together to go talk to their congressional representatives here in North Carolina about the value of librarians,” she says.

As McQuinn says, “The fight goes on.”

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