Some rural districts were left without any representation from Arizona Educators United or any clear sign that their voices mattered as public education employees across the state took part in a vote on whether to walk out of schools.
An online record the group is keeping shows more than 900 schools have “site liaisons” who are responsible for implementing the group’s actions at individual school sites and districts.
But there are still hundreds of other schools without any representatives plugged into the group’s efforts, including schools in rural communities.
Arizona Educators United called for a three-day vote on April 17 on whether teachers, who have demanded a 20-percent pay hike, should strike.
Round Valley Elementary School, for example, is the only school in Apache County with a liaison – it actually has two – and there are no schools in Greenlee County with a liaison, according to the Arizona Educators United’s record.
Diana Hagerty is a district employee at Whiteriver Unified School District in Navajo County, which is home to five schools, none of which has a liaison.
She said there isn’t much awareness of the Red for Ed movement in the district. They want to do their part, she said, but she doesn’t see how they can at this point. To her knowledge, no one has been able to participate in the vote.
Hagerty was among rural educators leaving anxious comments on Arizona Educators United’s Facebook page, imploring leaders for more information. She said she never got a response.
“It just seems like it’s Phoenix that’s getting all of this attention,” she said. “There’s interest outside of Phoenix.”
The schools are the lifeblood of the community in her district, she said, and a walkout would be “horrific.”
Chantel Sloan, a kindergarten teacher of 16 years in the Oracle Elementary School District in Pinal County, said she felt overwhelmed by this movement because the consequences of taking action are likely to be very different for communities like hers than they are in major metropolitan areas.
Sloan said she worries about whether the children in her small district of just two schools will be provided for during a walkout.
Arizona Educators United leaders have told members to have a plan for their students, to ensure they have food to eat and somewhere safe to go.
But many kids in Oracle are on free or reduced lunch and rely on their schools for daily meals.
There’s been some talk of stay-at-home parents taking care of the children while teachers are out of the classroom, she said, but nothing is certain.
And that makes her nervous.
There’s still too much that is unknown to make her feel entirely prepared. She said the use of social media has helped connect rural districts like hers to the movement, but she still feels isolated.
“Right now, they don’t have a voice,” Hagerty said, referring to the educators in districts like hers and Sloan’s.
Derek Harris, one of the group’s leaders, said they are trying to reach every district through site liaisons and education association representatives to ensure a ballot reaches every district in the state.
He said Arizona Educators United is trying to convince teachers who contact the group to become site liaisons.