March 8, 2017

“A Day Without A Woman” Strike Closes Two D.C.-Area School Districts

By Ingalisa Schrobsdorff

Some teachers stayed home from work today, but many others marched in protest. Those who took to the streets in the scene above walked past the U.S. Department of the Treasury toward the White House.

Some teachers stayed home from work today, but many others marched in protest. Those who took to the streets in the scene above walked past the U.S. Department of the Treasury toward the White House.

Organizers behind the Women’s March in January called for a “A Day Without A Woman” strike to coincide with Wednesday’s International Women’s Day. In response, several school systems across four states shut down to accommodate the number of leave requests. In our region, a handful of charter schools, along with Alexandria City public schools and Prince George’s County public schools announced closings in anticipation of staff shortages.

Moriah Balingit, a Washington Post reporter who covers education in Virginia, said Alexandria City Public Schools made the decision to cancel school for the day after more than 300 staff members requested leave for the day. She spoke to parents in Alexandria who were supportive of the strike, as well as others unhappy about the decision. But with less than 48 hours notice, she said both sets of parents had to scramble for childcare. “I talked to one woman who was an independent consultant and she works by billable hours, so this [strike] means a full day of lost work for her. She was fairly upset that she’d have to take the day off to take care of her children because she has no paid time off.”

One message from the “Day Without A Woman” protest.

One woman Balingit spoke to was supportive of both the tactics and the agenda. Around three quarters of the public school workforce in terms of teachers are women, notes Balingit, and teachers unions were partners in the Women’s March. But given the massive response to the Women’s March in January, some have asked why “A Day Without A Woman” didn’t get more traction–and more women opting out of work for the day.

“They’re in a bit of a quandary. When we think about a lot of the professions that tend to be dominated by women –teaching, child care— if those people take the day off, it leaves other women in a serious bind. It leaves mothers in a serious bind. It’s an interesting dynamic. It appears to be very different from the previous boycott that involved immigrants,” says Balingit, referencing the “Day Without Immigrants” protest, which had resonance among among the region’s restaurant industry.

Both Prince George’s County officials and Alexandria City schools emphasized that the decision was a matter of staffing, not politics. But one mother Balingit spoke to was frustrated that the school system didn’t do more to prevent teachers from taking the day off. “She felt their unwillingness to do so was a form of tacit support of the protest.”

Helen Lloyd, spokesperson for Alexandria City public schools, noted that the number of personal leave requests was unprecedented. The decision was based solely on their ability to provide sufficient staffing, and she notes it was also a safety issue. “We may have criticism now for closing our schools but we would have had probably equal or stronger criticism if we had opened our schools and had a safety incident as a result of too few staff on hand.” She said there is no policy currently in place regarding how many staff members can take personal leave at any given time, but it’s an issue they may look at in the future.

Lloyd says the reaction from parents has been mixed. Some have been very supportive, others are feeling the impact on their families of the need to find unanticipated childcare. Alexandria City schools are putting services in place to minimize the impact on students. Six schools will be open for breakfast and lunch. The Alexandria City school system hasn’t used any snow days so far, so Wednesday’s closing won’t affect the length of the school year.

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