BARTOW, Fla. (WFLA) – As commuters in Bartow drove home Tuesday afternoon, they noticed a bustling area along Broadway Avenue. It was packed with people, with some driving and some walking.
All were making their way to Bartow High School.
Even the city’s police department was there, a show of force illustrated with a long line of patrol cruisers parked outside the school. They knew the night would be long, as they kept a close eye on the growing crowds filing inside.
This was no ordinary Polk County School board meeting.
There was something else in the crowd. A sea of red shirts, one right after the other, worn by so many, it was hard to keep track. Polk County teachers and educators wanted to show their strength and solidarity with their ‘Red for Ed’ shirts.
The lines to get in were long, and the message was simple. To save their school district and the students within left struggling.
Teachers say they are in this for the long haul, as long as it takes.
They wanted to make sure their voices would be heard all the way from Bartow to Tallahassee. When word got out that Polk teachers wanted to speak during the public comment section of the school board meeting, county officials knew their official meeting spot wouldn’t cut it. Not by a long shot.
So, the high school opened up, and hundreds of teachers piled in, over and over again. Teachers didn’t hold back, often sharing personal stories with the large crowd, followed by deafening cheers and applause.
The teachers wanted school board members to keep the momentum alive after a recent trip to Tallahassee, one that made headlines everywhere as teachers took the day off to travel to the state capitol to rally for change.
Teachers shared their feelings of heartbreak, disappointment and anger, all aimed at the state, after the Tallahassee trip. Those who took the day and drove to the rally explained to 8 On Your Side that they felt compelled to share their stories in Polk County with leaders in the governor’s office. Teachers say they’re exhausted and frustrated as they face unreasonable working conditions daily.
They say it’s got to stop, citing children as the victims who carry the scars from a suffering school system.
Teachers can handle quite a bit when it comes to a classroom in chaos, said Amy Lashkajami, and often does. But, the current conditions, Lashkajami said, don’t allow for true success.
“They’re being treated like floor mats, mats that you buy at Walmart for $12. Well, we’re not $12 floor mats anymore,” said the middle school algebra teacher. “I’m very fired up about it. And, I’m fired up about it because so many teachers are afraid to speak up.”
But, on this night, there was no fear, only strength in numbers and a willingness to listen. Polk County teachers say they felt good after the meeting, knowing their words and actions were sparking conversations.
In the end, teachers told 8 On Your Side they want to be treated better, appreciated for their commitment to excellence and, most of all, dedication to their main mission – educating the children of Polk County who teachers say often become pawns.
“What they’re doing to us makes it difficult for us to do our job,” said one teacher. “What they’re doing to Polk County children is cruel. They lose in the most important years of their lives. Kids don’t care about politics, they just want to be learning. We’re here to do that, no matter what.”
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