MADISON — A number of southern Wisconsin school districts planned to close Thursday after teachers warned they wouldn’t show up for work to protest a Republican bill that would strip most of their collective bargaining rights.
The closures came after the head of the state’s largest teachers union told reporters during a rally outside the state Capitol that all Wisconsinites should join a massive protest in Madison on Thursday and Friday. Wisconsin Education Association Council President Mary Bell did not explicitly call on teachers to skip work, but the result was the same.
“We need you to help,” Bell said. “Help our voices be heard.”
Republican Gov. Scott Walker has proposed a bill that would strip most of the state’s public sector employees of almost all collective bargaining rights. The measure has outraged unions and spurred a protest by thousands at the Capitol that has gone on for two days and promises to stretch into the weekend.
A number of Madison-area districts announced they would not hold classes Thursday because of anticipated teacher absences. Those that had canceled by late Wednesday included: Madison, which already had closed Wednesday because of a teacher sick-out; Oregon; Monona Grove; De Forest; Lodi and Edgerton.
Milwaukee Public Schools spokeswoman Roseann St. Aubin said district officials didn’t anticipate any teacher absences Thursday related to the bill. District Superintendent Gregory Thornton sent a letter to teachers on Wednesday warning them they would face unspecified disciplinary action if they didn’t come to work Thursday and Friday.
“This is a posture we truly hate to take, but it is a necessary one,” the letter said. “Our children, many of whom struggle daily with poverty and hunger, truly depend on us.”
Meanwhile, the Muskegon, Mich.-based pro-school choice Education Action Group Foundation issued a statement blasting the Madison teacher’s union for staging a sick-out Wednesday. The group accused the union of caring more about politics than students.
A message left at the Madison teachers union wasn’t immediately returned.