Last week, a group of three dozen teachers marched in Raleigh in an effort to draw attention to the appalling lack of basic educational materials available in their classrooms. When Governor McCrory refused to meet with them, 14 of these dedicated educators were arrested for sitting down in the street in protest. Under a new Senate bill, teachers who are arrested for failure to disperse could potentially lose their teaching licenses.
Senate Bill 867’s intent is stricter background checks for teachers applying for teaching licenses in North Carolina. Its current language requires the Department of Public Safety to provide criminal histories on individuals who apply for licensure to the State Board of Education. The board then makes a determination on whether the aspiring teacher has the “moral character required for professional educators” before issuing the teaching license.
The majority of the crimes listed in the bill make perfect sense if the goal is – as it should be – to keep our students safe. Few would argue that individuals who have been convicted of homicide, arson, prostitution, or misconduct in public office should be allowed to mold the young minds of tomorrow.
But the inclusion of Article 36A, which includes the act of remaining “at the scene of ... disorderly conduct by an assemblage of three or more persons, following a command to disperse,” departs from that sincere desire to protect our children. It means that individuals who have been arrested for protesting the lack of textbooks and toilet paper in North Carolina schools could be denied teaching careers, and those already teaching could potentially have their licenses revoked due to such an arrest.
Imagine the cruel irony of social studies students who are learning about the Greensboro sit-ins losing their teacher in such a manner.
NCAE President-elect Mark Jewell believes that the State Board would handle such decisions in a nonpartisan way, and he may be right. But why leave the power to end careers over the expression of free speech in the hands of a board that has been appointed by Governor McCrory?
Senate Bill 867 needs to be amended to ensure that it is not used to silence courageous teachers who simply want every student in our state to have access to the highest quality education possible.
Parmenter is a Waddell Language Academy 7th grade Language Arts Teacher and 2015-16 CMS Teacher of the Year for South Learning Community.