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Some area schools still holding class

When thousands of teachers across the state marched from their classrooms to the steps of the State Capitol, educators in two local districts remained behind in their own classrooms to continue teaching. 

Teachers in Fletcher Public Schools and Boone-Apache Public Schools support the ongoing walkout, but feel measures taken by the Legislature have been enough to keep them inside and teaching children while still sending their support from afar. Shane Gilbreath, Fletcher Public Schools superintendent, said his faculty were ready to walk, but paused when the Legislature started taking teacher pay and education funding seriously. 

"Before April 2, our teachers met on their own  because this is a teacher-led initative  and decided if nothing came about from the Legislature, they would walk out," Gilbreath said. "Once they started passing a few things, then they kind of changed their minds. They wanted to hang back and see what happens."

Fletcher teachers have taken two additional votes since the walkout began on April 2 and have decided as a group each time to stay. Gilbreath said he understands their decision  one that isn't easy to make and can be construed as controversial. But he understands they went into this line of work for their students and they didn't want to leave them behind. Instead, the district has sent advocacy groups each day to the Capitol.

"As long as we can find subs, I let two from each site go up there," Gilbreath said. "That gives me 10 percent of my faculty. As long as we can cover that, we're good. Everyone who has wanted to go has had the chance to go."

The superintendent himself has made several trips to the Capitol over the last week-and-a-half. He's partnered with Elgin Public Schools Superintendent Nate Meraz to carpool to the ongoing protest. He's used his trips to learn additional information that he could bring back to his teachers. That allows them to feel more confident in their decision to stay in the classroom  a decision that alleviated potential issues.

"When they were making their decision, I tried not to sway them one way or another," Gilbreath said. "I wrote them a letter and told them, 'this is what you can do.' We only had one day we could take off that we wouldn't have to make up. It told them how it would have any affect on their pay or retirement and that there would be no repercussions." 

Boone-Apache Public Schools Superintendent Don Schneberger said the decision to remain open for the majority of the last two weeks was entirely up to the teachers. The district's faculty was ready to walk until concessions were made by the state Legislature, including a much-needed pay raise. 

"We had a special meeting last week and it was decided we could close school," he said. "I gave the authority to close schools or have us send advocates. They passed the first bill and we just kind of made a decision that we should send advocates instead."

The school district closed Monday, April 2, to show solidarity with thousands of other teachers across the state who marched on the State Capitol for the first day of the walkout. But teachers felt they could do their best work inside the classroom with their students. They made a decision to walk out again this past Monday to again show their support for their fellow educators and to show the Legislature this was a serious matter. Schneberger said he supported their decision  no matter which side of the issue it fell on. 

The Lawton Constitution

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