12 schools close after DPS teachers call out sick to protest staff workers’ pay cuts

In a move that closed 12 district schools, Durham Public Schools teachers called out in droves to attend a Wednesday protest in support of DPS classified staff, who are facing pay cuts and staff shortages. 

Despite the rain and cold, demonstrators convened outside the DPS Staff Development Center and organized themselves by workplace, with designated leaders holding up signs for each school that had closed that morning. Staff from Riverside High School had the highest attendance, with 68 employees present by 10:30 a.m.

Other schools represented include Y.E. Smith Elementary School, Sherwood Githens Middle School, Spring Valley Elementary, Hillside High School, The Whitted School, Forest View Elementary, Lakewood Elementary, Northern High School, Jordan High School, Lyons Farm Elementary and Lucas Middle School.

“[Administrators] don’t want us talking to each other, organizing with each other, because they know we’re more powerful than them,” said Symone Kiddoo, president of the Durham Association of Educators, the teacher's union that has been one of the driving forces behind recent demonstrations surrounding the pay issues.

The conflict began on Jan. 12, when DPS announced that it had accidentally overpaid employees between July and December 2023, motivated by the results of a salary study that suggested raising salaries for certain staff members. The payroll error affected classified staff, which includes instructional assistants and non-certified employees such as custodians, nutrition and building services staff.

In response, many employees walked off the job last week and held a rally Jan. 25 in advance of a school board meeting planned by the Durham Board of Education, which later voted unanimously to allow employees to keep what they received through January 2024. 

“Durham Public Schools is engaged in an active investigation regarding the implementation of the salary study. Due to the sensitive and critical nature of this matter, we are not able to provide any further public statements to the media,” wrote Crystal Roberts, director of strategic communications at the DPS Office of Public Affairs, in a statement to The Chronicle.

The protest took place on the first day of Cierra Ojijo’s tenure as acting CFO for DPS. Her predecessor, Paul LeSieur, resigned last Friday amid the disruptions.

For some employees, the conflict is part of a larger divide between DPS workers and administrators. 

“It was a break in trust between the people who work in Durham Public Schools and the people who represent us and make decisions about things like our budget,” said Ashley van Noppen, a first grade teacher at Forest View Elementary.

One organizer noted that the union is close to having a majority of DPS employees as members, which would give them significant bargaining power against the district’s administration. Other speakers echoed their desire for improved communication and transparency from DPS.

“I think if we had a seat at the table, we would be seeing a lot more honest, open communication in a way that is genuinely engaging with the needs, concerns [and] desires of not just workers in DPS, but also really their families, our students. This involves everybody,” said Carlos Perez, a social studies teacher at Jordan High School.

Unity and community building were the themes of the day, as teachers brought one another coffees and shared laughs before the official remarks began. All addresses were delivered in both English and Spanish to promote inclusivity at the event.

After the remarks concluded, participants dispersed to attend sign-making and postcard-writing stations. Later in the afternoon, they relocated in delegations to the Fuller Building and other DPS schools to picket, share their stories with non-demonstrating teachers and sign up new union members.

Parents of DPS students decried the lack of communication from the district throughout the conflict, claiming that school administrators failed to inform them of the disruption to bus routes last week and the Wednesday closures in a timely manner. DPS has since been regularly posting updates on the state of available transportation on the dpsnc.net website, in addition to their social media channels and the Edulog Parent Portal App.

Miscommunication was cited as an issue for DPS employees, who are requesting a “seat at the table” in school decision-making processes in addition to appropriate compensation for the remainder of the school year. 

“We aim to provide dependable and consistent information to our parents and stakeholders, and commit to continuous improvement. We are intentional in our communications and in order to ensure clarity, we encourage feedback and interaction so that we are engaging authentically,” Roberts wrote.

The Board of Education will hold a specially-called meeting at 3 p.m. Friday at the Fuller Building “to discuss personnel matters, classified matters, and Board finances.” The meeting will be open to the public.


Zoe Kolenovsky profile
Zoe Kolenovsky | Associate News Editor

Zoe Kolenovsky is a Trinity sophomore and an associate news editor for the news department. 

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