First stop on my back to school tour: Volusia County, Florida!

Randi Weingarten | August 20, 2020

Last night, I met with activists from the Volusia Teachers Organization, and the Volusia Education Support Association, the two educator locals in the Floridian county that includes Daytona Beach. We were honored to have some parents join us as well. These locals, with support from parents, stood up last school year in the face of attacks from Tea Party conservatives who were more focused on breaking the union than helping Volusia’s children.

Me with Cindy Martin — teacher, blogger, AFT member, and all-around awesome activist

The story of Volusia is a story not just about the usual debates around high stakes testing, No Child Left Behind, and teacher shortages (as important as they are) — it’s also about how the community binds together when one of their own is under siege. It’s about everyone saying “we’ve got your back” and fighting forward to achieve social justice through a real democratic movement for change.

Nine months ago, inexperienced Tea Partiers seized a majority on the Volusia school board and the superintendent departed. Teachers and kids were hit hard. What the Volusia teachers and school support staff did under the leadership of Andrew Spar and Laura Cloer was inspirational. After being stunned that a board could change course so fast from supporting public education to eviscerating it — they started organizing. They let the Board know they were going to fight, and this was not going to be a traditional contract fight.

But it wasn’t just the teachers. It was the parents and the community that came together to do ‘walk-ins’ before school to keep up the pressure; it was the small businesses that hung signs in support, wrote letters to the campaign and attended every school board event.

Volusia came together. This was more than a contract fight — it was a fight for the board to respect kids and respect the union. They walked in each other’s shoes and showed ‘united we stand’ really works.

But the thing that struck me most about Volusia is that the movement for change gave so many teachers and support staff power and control over their own lives. Just look at teacher Cindy Martin’s post to see how this experience impacted her. Every American should have the right to speak, but as classrooms begin to fill for another year, the Volusia educators can truly say that their voice matters.

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