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Female teachers at SLA plan absence for 'A Day Without a Woman'

Teachers at a second school, Taylor Elementary, say they will also participate. The District issued a statement saying: "All students and teachers are expected to be in school throughout the school day."
  • Science Leadership Academy

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UPDATED 6:15 p.m with statement from Taylor Elementary teachers

Female educators at Science Leadership Academy plan to take a personal day Wednesday as part of the national "A Day Without a Woman" action, leaving the school in the hands of male staffers.

It is unclear whether female teachers at other city schools will also stay home from work. The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers is organizing picketing before school starts in the morning, but is not urging teachers to stay out, according to spokesman George Jackson.

"We've heard some people are planning to do that," Jackson said. "You see a lot of chatter on social media and anecdotal reports. We're not keeping a record on it. I've read about other districts where this is happening, and some of our members are taking cues from other districts." 

Late in the day, teachers from Taylor Elementary School in North Philadelphia announced they would also stay home Wednesday, "sending a message to the School Reform Commission and Superintendent William Hite to treat the teachers fairly and equitably in the continuing contract negotiations." 

The union is using the day for "informational pickets" to draw attention to the fact that city teachers have been working without a contract for nearly five years and that most teachers have received no raises during that time. About three-quarters of the city's teaching force is female.

President Jerry Jordan (the PFT has been led by men for almost all of its history) wrote a commentary for the Notebook in which he said that women hold the schools together and failing to reach a contract disrespects them.

"In a profession that is dominated by women, it should be appalling to us all that for five years, educators across the city (most of whom are women) and the students they serve have borne on their shoulders the burden of systemic disinvestment in our public schools," he wrote.

District spokesman Lee Whack said that the District has no indication how many female employees may participate in the action and whether it may be necessary to close schools, as some other districts have announced they will do.

"We have been monitoring it," he said. 

Later, the District issued a statement: "All students and staff are expected to be in school throughout the school day so that teaching and learning can occur. Absences due to participation in protests should be treated like any other request for a day off. The School District of Philadelphia respects the rights of District employees for self-expression, however, nothing must deter us from our primary objective – the education of the children of Philadelphia."

The teachers at SLA issued a statement in the early morning announcing their plans, saying they were "inspired by the Women’s March in January as well as their union's promotion of the day."

The group that plans to stay out includes teachers, counselors, one-to-one aides, the school nurse, and the secretary.

"Male teachers have pledged their solidarity and support by covering the day’s vacancies and keeping the school running in the absence of the female teachers," the statement said. 

The teachers will participate in the informational picketing in the morning before school starts at 8:15 a.m. The participating teachers "will then leave the school grounds and use the morning to prepare for an afternoon of visiting offices at City Hall, which will involve petitioning members of City Council for more resources and funding for Philadelphia schools. They will also be delivering letters on behalf of teachers who are unable to participate, including one SLA teacher who is eight months pregnant and can’t afford to take any time off in advance of her maternity leave." That teacher is the only female teacher who will remain at SLA during the day.

The statement said that teachers are participating for "many reasons," including fair school funding, a fair PFT contract, solidarity with other female-dominated professions, "and as an example to their own students."

“I feel that I am morally obligated to participate in Day Without a Woman because my teachers taught me that teaching was an act of social justice, and my students deserve the same education,” said Pia Martin, who teaches health and physical education and has been with the District for 24 years.

“I am committed to the reality that women’s rights are human rights, and I stand for every woman who doesn't have the resources and ability to strike. I am her feet on the pavement.”

At Taylor, a statement from teachers noted that teaching, a predominantly female profession, is underpaid compared to other professions with similar education levels. 

"Women's issues of inequality and unfair pay applies to the entire teaching profession," said 5th-grade teacher Michelle Gainer, a spokesperson for the faculty there. "Teachers earn approximately 88 cents on the dollar when compared to occupations that require similar levels of education and comparable skills, according to government studies." 

During the period that teachers have been working under an expired "status quo" contract, teachers have not received any percentage raises or any increases for accumulating years of services and graduate degrees. Teachers who started in the District during that time are still working at first-year salaries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dale Mezzacappa

@dalemezz
Dale is a contributing editor at the Notebook. She has reported on education since 1986, most of that time with The Philadelphia Inquirer.