As parents pulled up to the entrance of Sunset Ridge Elementary School in Glendale, employees in neon vests informed them that the school was closed. They handed parents a slip of paper. "Many teachers at Sunset Ridge are absent today and we have a shortage of substitute teachers," it read, asking that parents "refrain from dropping your child off at school today." A couple kids in the back seat of one car cheered when they heard the news.
In a huge step for the fast-growing #RedForEd, dozens of teachers in the Pendergast Elementary District in Glendale called in sick or didn't show up for work on Wednesday — the first school closures during the grassroots movement of Arizona teachers demanding a living wage.
Meanwhile, teachers are prepared to assemble later today at the State Capitol for a "teach-in" hosted by the #RedForEd teachers along with like-minded groups Save Our Schools Arizona and the Arizona PTA.
Nedda Shafir, a district spokesperson, confirmed that nine Pendergast schools are closed today because of the teacher shortage. She said that no teachers will be disciplined or punished as a result of the "sick-out," and added that the district understands the importance of teacher pay and has sought to give raises to teachers who have worked from between one to seven years at the district.
"We have a very supportive governing board and administration — great professional development," Shafir said. "All of our teachers and educators are encouraged to wear red on Wednesdays every week. And we're all very respectful of the profession and helping to elevate it."
Shafir said at the three open schools — Rio Vista, Copper King, and Westwind — it will be business as usual.
Tuesday, Noah Karvelis, a Tres Rios elementary music teacher and lead organizer of the #RedforEd drive for better pay, said on the group's massive Facebook page that they support the teachers calling in sick at Pendergast, but the move was an independent decision by that district's teachers.
At Villa de Paz Elementary, a secretary in the front office said nearly all of the school's 25 teachers were not at school.
Mike Haggerty, 54, didn't realize school was closed when the bus picked up his third-grader this morning, so he drove to Sunset Ridge Elementary to bring her back home. He didn't mind the inconvenience, saying that he supports teachers in the sick-out after watching the state Legislature stalled on school funding and teacher pay year after year.
"I think they deserve $70,000 a year," Haggerty said. "That's the future of our country. Without education, what are we going to have?"