At Indianapolis Public Schools’ Center for Inquiry School 27, the parking lot was unusually quiet for a Tuesday morning.
With IPS among more than 140 districts statewide that canceled classes so teachers could rally at the Indiana Statehouse, the school was only open for an all-day child care program. Families from nearby schools pulled in every few minutes for drop-offs.
“The teachers in Indiana are underpaid,” said Marcia Felker, a parent at the Butler Lab School 60, as she walked her child in. “I hope today helps the teachers.”
All eyes were on the thousands of educators who attended Tuesday’s Red for Ed rally to call for actions such as more funding, higher pay, and less standardized testing. But many Hoosiers lent their support for the state’s teachers from far outside the statehouse. That included parents who made other accommodations for the canceled school day, educators who went to work when their districts stayed open, and others who didn’t — or couldn’t — make the trip downtown.
Felker’s third-grade daughter was wearing a red T-shirt — a nod to the Red for Ed public schools movement that spurred the rally. The bookmark in her “Little Women” graphic novel was a map of average teacher pay in neighboring Midwestern states, torn out of the newspaper, showing Indiana with the lowest at $50,614.
Some other parents dropping off their children said they side with the educators who support their children.
“They want more money, more support, more funding for the classroom. I want those things for my kid,” a kindergarten parent, Julia Stevens, said. “I want my kid’s teacher to stay.”
In northeast Indiana, Lakeland schools superintendent Eva Merkel fiercely supported Tuesday’s advocacy efforts but kept school in session, sending two teachers to represent the district at the rally.
“We’re standing with them. We’re just doing it a little differently,” Merkel said. “Our teachers feel very strongly that we’re here for the kids, and we want to send that message to the community.”
Merkel said the district is undertaking a broader effort to help the community understand how to support schools and what schools need. Without getting political, she wants to encourage more civic engagement.
“If things aren’t changing, and we’re pushing for change, and we’re not happy with how things are, then maybe it’s time for changes in who’s making the decisions,” she said.
Veteran teacher Andy Lyons also opted not to rally, even though his district, Marion Community Schools, canceled classes.
Lyons told Chalkbeat ahead of the event that he generally agreed with the issues the unions were raising, such as wanting to eliminate a cumbersome requirement for renewing teachers licenses. But Lyons worried about what he called the “bad optics” of the rally and closing schools, particularly since much of the debate is centering around money, even after schools saw state funding increases this year and several districts have recently negotiated raises.
“The optics, to a lot of people, is just going to look like it’s whining,” Lyons said. “My fear is that it doesn’t look professional, that it looks like an angry mob mentality.”
New Albany-Floyd County schools history teacher Alan Hess stayed home, too, but had a different take: One day of activism, he said, wasn’t enough.
State lawmakers already knew teachers were unhappy with their salaries and working conditions, Hess said. To get their attention, and to get results, he believes Indiana’s 75,000 public school educators need to take more serious and more disruptive action — a strike.
“Taking one day and going right back to work on Wednesday is going to change nothing,” he said.