Re: Red for Ed–An Open Letter to My School Board and Community

Dear School Board and Township Community,

I wanted to write this public letter to explain my position regarding the Red for Ed movement and, in particular, the reason I am taking a personal day in order to attend the rally demonstration at the Indiana Statehouse on Tuesday, November 19.

By now, you are all no doubt aware of this upcoming event. If you’ve been following its growth on social media or in the news, you know that it has grown into quite a large phenomenon. As I type this letter, there are more than 10,000 teachers from around the state who have registered to attend. Due to the overwhelming nature of those numbers, a lot of school districts have canceled classes for Nov. 19th and either scheduled an e-learning day or they will make the day up at a later date. The last count I had there were about 95 school districts closed for the Red for Ed Action Day. Incredibly, that’s well over 30% of the state’s districts. I have been awaiting an announcement that our school district might follow suit, but I am beginning to realize that it is not likely to happen. So I have scheduled a personal day for Nov. 19th and informed my school administrators that I will be attending the rally. The purpose of this letter is to explain to you, my school board, and the community at large in my school’s township, why I’ve come to this decision.

First, let me say that I do not begrudge my district’s reluctance to cancel classes for November 19th. I understand the complex nature of that decision. I know that there is an ILEARN readiness test scheduled for that day. I also know that to cancel classes at this point might create ill will between our teachers and the community at large. After all, our district has been blessed with a community that has supported our township’s schools with not one but two successful referendum campaigns. Our schools owe you a great debt of gratitude for your willingness to pay more in taxes to support what the state of Indiana has failed to support. We appreciate your generosity and your hearts for our kids who benefit so much from your financial sacrifices. However, we also know that not all teachers are so fortunate to live in communities that have been willing to go the extra mile to support their public schools. Referendums have failed in many places. When I support the Red for Ed rally, I am supporting my brothers and sisters in those districts which are still struggling mightily to stay financially solvent and are faced with the unpleasant reality of cutting programs and services that kids desperately need.

To my school board, I want to say that my beef is not with you. Again, I’ve been blessed to teach in a district wherein the school board has a long track record of supporting our teachers. I realize that, on the surface, my taking a personal day to support the Red for Ed Action Day might make me seem like an ingrate in the wake of our brand new contract with the largest raise I’ve received in years. But please understand that my protest is not against you. My protest is not about me. My protest is for those tens of thousands of teachers out there who haven’t been as fortunate as our teachers have.

The Red for Ed movement’s beef, by and large, is with the legislators at the state and federal levels who, for almost 20 years, have instituted policies hostile toward public education. Most of these things are well beyond the scope of control of local district administrations and school boards. It has reached the point where teachers have to stand up and be heard while there are still enough of us around to create a stink. Something has got to give if we’re going to save public education, a crucial cornerstone of our Democracy. We are simply running out of teachers and running out of time. The storm we’ve been warning about for years is now here and it’s gaining strength. This is a crisis in education the likes of which we’ve not seen. It’s not hyperbole to suggest that the very future of our nation is hanging in the balance. It’s far past time to put partisan politics aside and do what is best for our children.

Lastly, I am in a unique position as someone who, as a public figure (a small one perhaps, but nevertheless…), has been given a platform to be a vocal proponent of the Red for Ed movement and public education in general in my newspaper columns and on my blog. My opinions on these matters have been pretty widely read for the last several years. Therefore, it is not just my duty as a teacher to show up in support of the cause I’ve championed, it is also incumbent upon me as a journalist. Quite simply stated, I need to be there not just as a participant, but also as an observer and reporter. It’s entirely possible that we’ve never seen such a large demonstration of teachers in Indiana as we’ll see on November 19th and I feel honor bound to be there on multiple levels.

In closing, I want you to understand that I support whatever decision you feel is necessary for our district, whether that be to remain open or closed. I understand your reasoning if you choose to remain open and I support it. I want the community to try to empathize with me and other teachers as we show solidarity. I hope you won’t fall into the trap of seeing this as a greedy power play. That is certainly not what this is. I am going to support the thousands of teachers who don’t have as good a situation as myself. And more importantly, I am going because I believe that our state must do better–a great deal better–in supporting and funding our public schools and the 90% of Indiana’s school-age population who attend them.

Sincerely,

Shane Phipps

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