A Northern Virginia school system is canceling classes for all students Wednesday after numerous teachers requested the day off to join a national day of protest called “A Day Without a Woman,” in which organizers are urging female workers to stay home.
School officials in Alexandria announced Monday that about 300 staff members were seeking to take Wednesday off, too many to be able to open schools. The officials attributed the high number of requests to the demonstration, which was organized in conjunction with International Women’s Day and is intended to show the importance of women in the labor force. The majority of the 300 are teachers, officials said, comprising a sizable share of the 1,400 teachers in the school workforce. The system has about 15,000 students.
“This is not a decision that was made lightly. We have been closely monitoring requests for leave on March 8, including communicating with school leaders and our education association,” Alexandria Superintendent Alvin L. Crawley said in a statement on the school system’s website. “The decision is based solely on our ability to provide sufficient staff to cover all our classrooms, and the impact of high staff absenteeism on student safety and delivery of instruction. It is not based on a political stance or position.”
More than three-quarters of public school teachers were women in the 2011-2012 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, which represent schoolteachers throughout the country, were both partners for the Women’s March on Washington, which drew more than 1 million people into the streets around the country and the world for demonstrations on the day after President Trump took office.
But most school systems in the Washington region appear to be largely unaffected by the upcoming protest. Officials in Maryland, the District and Northern Virginia — except for Alexandria — said they had not received a deluge of requests for days off and planned to open normally. At least one school system elsewhere — Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools in North Carolina — announced last week that it would close because teachers there wanted to join the protest.
In some school systems, officials were urging teachers and principals to come to school Wednesday.
“While some may plan to attend this week’s walk out on International Women’s Day, all students and staff are expected to be in school throughout the day so that teaching and learning can continue. We respect the right to self-expression and peaceful protest in support of gender equality,” John Davis, chief of schools for D.C. Public Schools, wrote in a note to principals Monday morning.
Parents in Alexandria were left to search for child care, and some teachers worried about how low-income families would manage. Nearly 60 percent of the city’s students qualify for free or reduced-price meals. The system said it would open six schools so that children who rely on school meals would still be able to eat.
“We’re actually probably causing a lot of working women to scramble for child care and some of them are minimum-wage workers,” said one teacher, who spoke anonymously because she did not have permission to speak to a reporter.
Tracy Kennedy, an independent consultant whose son is the fourth grade at Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy in Alexandria, said the decision to cancel classes would mean she could lose nearly a full day’s pay because she bills by the hour and gets no paid time off. She said she is disappointed the school system permitted teachers to take the day off, although officials said they had little choice in the matter.
“We have shown our teachers that they can basically rip the rug out from underneath our educational system and that it’s permissible,” Kennedy said. The protesters “are trying to support women,” she said, “but women are the ones who are suffering.”
Other parents, while mindful of the struggles some would have in finding child care, were supportive of the teachers who decided to take the day off.
Julia Sylla, who works at an international education nonprofit, said she was still working out care for her daughter Madeline, a kindergartner at Cora Kelly School for Math, Science and Technology. She said it was inconvenient but the cause is worthwhile.
“My husband and I both work full-time so we are scrambling, but I feel like they have a right to stand up for equal pay and for equal treatment overall just as much as any other citizen,” Sylla said.
The protest, assembled by the organizers of the Women’s March on Washington, is intended to draw attention to the role women play in the labor force and to press for equal pay and family leave policies.
It follows last month’s “Day Without Immigrants,” when many restaurants, stores and businesses shuttered in solidarity with immigrants who took the day off work to join protests against Trump’s restrictive policies on immigration.
Emma Brown and Donna St. George contributed to this report.