‘Non-stop not knowing’: DPS schools face closures amidst staff days of protest

Rogers-Herr Middle School displays sign saying "We love our staff"

Rogers-Herr Middle School pictured on February 17, 2024. Photo by Lucy Kraus.

Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024

By Lucy Kraus

For several weeks, Durham Public Schools parents and students have been unsure if schools will be open the next day. Some students await the announcement of a closure eagerly, while many parents dread a notification from DPS. 

DPS closed its 56 schools on Friday, Feb. 9 and Monday, Feb. 12 due to transportation employees calling out. In recent weeks, there have been several days of school closures related to a dispute over staff pay. 

WRAL News reported that, on Jan. 12, 2024, DPS notified staff that 1,300 employees were overpaid in the last three months of 2023 due to an error in calculating raises for some groups of classified staff, such as cafeteria workers, grounds crews and custodial staff. 

The DPS Board of Education announced that employees would be able to keep the previous overpayments, which had not been accounted for in the initial budget. However, WRAL reported that some classified DPS employees said they would be moved to a new salary schedule that would not take into account their years of experience outside of DPS, resulting in pay cuts.

Prior to the most recent district-wide closures, the Durham Association of Educators had organized educators to call out sick in waves, forcing DPS to close groups of schools on staggered days. In January, some bus routes did not run on scheduled days due to bus drivers calling out.

Luke Gray, a 12th grade student at Durham School of the Arts, said most of his friends and the students he follows on social media were excited when the recent closures were announced. He said he is concerned about how ongoing school closures may impact his chances to earn college credit for the AP Psychology exam. 

Rocio Aguilar, a single mother of two Morehead Montessori Elementary School students, said while her kids may be happy to stay home and watch TV all day, she knows the disruption caused by recent school closures is a burden on their mental health. She said there has been a lack of transparency surrounding the closures and parents have not been given enough advance notice to make adequate plans. 

Payton New, an 11th grade student at Northern High School, said she did poorly on an at-home test when Northern was closed on Wednesday, Jan. 31, as a result of the  staggered school closings.

“I definitely would have done better if it was at school, because I would have remembered that we can use our notes,” she said.

New said her teachers are understanding about the situation’s impacts on students. Her classes have had to skip over some content to stay on schedule, she said, but she thinks the employees are justified in canceling school.

Lily Brooks, an eighth grader at Lakewood Montessori Middle School, said some of her classmates were not able to make it to school during the bus route shutdowns. She said her teachers had spoken briefly about it in class but the reasons behind the disruptions were still not entirely clear to her. 

When bus routes were shut down on days that school was open in previous weeks, Aguilar said she offered rides to another parent so their kids could get to school. People figured it out, Aguilar said. New said she also took a few friends home when their bus routes were not running.

The Durham Association of Educators shared information on where students could receive free lunches during the closures, including Durham Community Fridges and several church groups. Some parents offered free childcare in Facebook groups for DPS families. 

Aguilar said she is concerned about the impact of potential closure on an upcoming work trip. Although a family member will take care of her children in the evenings, she is worried about what she will do if the buses aren’t running or school is canceled while she’s gone. Parents need transparency and communication, she said.

“I’m already asking parents, ‘Who’s going to be able to help me if I’m gone and they close the school one day?’” she said. “I think living in that non-stop not knowing what’s happening is just a lot for parents.”

One thought on “‘Non-stop not knowing’: DPS schools face closures amidst staff days of protest

  1. Denise McIntosh says:

    Very insightful article. The concerns some parents voiced are warranted. Thank you for publishing this. Good luck in your major.

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