J. Lawler Duggan for The Washington Post
The Washington Post
A Day Without
Classes: Some schools close as teachers join women’s protest
By Donna St. George and Moriah Balingit
Hundreds of teachers took leave Wednesday in solidarity with a women’s
protest day, forcing the cancellation of classes in Prince George’s
County, Alexandria and at least nine charter schools in the District.
As parents scrambled to find child care and some debated the teachers’
actions, Prince George’s, with 132,000 students, appeared to be the
largest district in the country to shutter schools because so many
employees took off to be part of “A Day Without a Woman.”
The national demonstration, which encouraged female workers to show the
importance of women in the workforce by staying home, was planned in
conjunction with International Women’s Day. Federal data shows that
most public school teachers are female. Many female teachers also
participated in the women’s marches held the day after President Trump
At least one other school district elsewhere, Chapel Hill-Carrboro in
North Carolina, also canceled classes Wednesday when too many staff
members requested the day off.
In the Maryland suburb of Prince George’s, school officials said
Tuesday evening that about 1,700 teachers and 30 percent of the
transportation staff had asked for the day off.
“We cannot transport students and provide safe, productive learning
environments without adequate staff,” Prince George’s schools chief
Kevin Maxwell said in a statement. Maxwell apologized for the
inconvenience to families. Maxwell and other school officials said
closure decisions were not influenced by politics.
But Maxwell came under fire for the late hour of his announcement.
Prince George’s Board of Education member Edward Burroughs III said
officials should have paid closer attention to staffing levels earlier
“I think it was pretty clear we were going to have a problem,”
Prince George’s school officials said Wednesday that the process for
requesting leave is automated and that there is not a cap on the number
of employees who can take off a particular day.
The extent of the absences became clear following calls to each of the
district’s more than 200 schools late Tuesday afternoon, officials
said. More than 20 schools would have had teacher absentee rates of
more than 50 percent if classes were held; another 20 schools would
have had rates of 25 to 50 percent.
“We didn’t have those numbers earlier in the day,” schools spokeswoman
Raven Hill said.
The action in Prince George’s came a day after Alexandria
Superintendent Alvin Crawley decided to cancel classes in the Northern
Virginia school system. More than 300 staff members — the majority of
them teachers — asked for the day off. The district of about 15,000
students has about 1,400 teachers.
Some parents were frustrated by the last-minute rush to find child care
or having to miss work. They criticized the school system for allowing
so many teachers to take personal leave.
Alexandria schools spokeswoman Helen Lloyd said the school system
typically does not deny those requests. Lloyd said some teachers also
indicated that they planned to wait until Wednesday to request leave,
which would have left the district casting around for substitutes to
cover their classrooms.
At least nine charter schools in the District also canceled class, the
D.C. Public Charter School Board said: six Center City Public Charter
Schools campuses, as well as the Latin American Youth Center Career
Academy, Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School
and Lee Montessori Public Charter School.
In Prince George’s, Khadija Bowen, a mother of four from Upper
Marlboro, described the teachers’ action as “selfish and
irresponsible.” She said her third-grade son told her that classes
could not possibly be canceled because he had important math testing
scheduled for Wednesday.
“The kids suffer,” she said. “You don’t put the kids in the middle to
prove a point. What if physicians decided not to come to work? What
happens when Mom and Dad split up or fight? The kids lose. There are
right ways and wrong ways to get a point across.”
Bowen pointed out that many working parents can’t locate child care on
such short notice and that a majority of students rely on free and
reduced-price meals at school. “Nobody thought this through and thought
about the people they were affecting,” she said.
Prince George’s school officials said seven schools across the county
were open to serve lunches to students.
Others were not dismayed at the teachers.
“I appreciate the fact that the teachers are doing it — I support it —
but I just wish we had a tiny bit more notice,” said Chelai Johnson, a
mother of two who lives in southern Prince George’s and ended up taking
her children with her to work.
Theresa Mitchell Dudley, president of the Prince George’s County
Educators’ Association, which has about 10,000 members, said the union
had no role in organizing the county’s teachers to take leave and did
not know in advance that so many would be out.
“I had no idea,” Dudley said. “We’re sensitive to the concerns of
parents, and the safety of children is paramount.” But she noted that
many of the union’s members participated in the women’s march in
January. “The spirit of the Women’s March is with us,” she said.
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