Hundreds rally at Capitol to protest 'furlough Friday' school closures


POSTED: Friday, October 23, 2009



Displaying signs saying “;Stop Furlough Fridays”; and “;We Need Schools To Learn,”; hundreds of parents, children, teachers and other public school supporters rallied at the state Capitol today for an end to the “;furlough Fridays”; school closures.

Today marked the first scheduled day for public schools to be closed on furlough Fridays for more than 170,000 public school students statewide and for the teachers, administrators and other staff at the schools.

“;We want to reaffirm the importance of children's needs first,”; said Jennifer Moy, a rally organizer and a leader of the group Hawaii Education Matters.

By 10:30 a.m., there were more than 700 demonstrators with more arriving each minute at the state Capitol. Dozens held protest signs on the sidewalks fronting the Capitol, and volunteers were at desks conducting voter registration drives.

 The rally was expected to last for three hours and include appearances by singer Jack Johnson and entertainer Ben Vereen.

Moy said buses were scheduled to bring 500 to 600 demonstrators from as far away as Waianae.

Organizers hope to send a message to state and public worker union leaders to come up with another budget alternative rather than the unpaid furlough days that will close public schools for 17 days this academic year and another 17 days next year.

Hawaii Education Matters spokeswoman Jo McGarry Curran, who has two children, said the rally was to bring attention to the fact that Hawaii's educational system is in a crisis.

“;Classroom time being compromised is not acceptable,”; she said.

Some state Board of Education members and the Hawaii State Teachers Association want the Hawaii Legislature to pass legislation allowing some of the $180 million in hurricane relief funds to go to public education and reducing the number of school furlough days.

Kailua resident Melanie Bailey who volunteered to help organize the rally said when she heard that the state was considering furlough days for schools, she thought it was a joke and that it was an option.

Bailey said she has a child and works but decided to devote time to help to organize the rally.

“;Somebody's got to stand up. This is the time ... It's too important to look away,”; she said. “;Somebody's got to stand up.

Pre-rally events this morning included a gathering at Noelani Elementary in Manoa where parents and children created posters for the Capitol rally. They then took buses from the school to the rally.

Across the state, schools remained opened to school staff who are United Public Workers' members, including cafeteria and janitorial employees. UPW workers at several schools said that were just reporting to work as usual, even though there were no children or teachers.

While the HSTA and the Hawaii Government Employees Association, which includes principals and administrative school staff, have agreed to unpaid furlough days to help balance the state budget, UPW leaders and the state have not agreed to a contract deal.

Despite the furloughs, children were on several campuses throughout the state. Some schools' parent-teacher groups organized childcare options on campus so that parents could drop off their children at school as usual.

In addition to schools being closed, many state offices staffed by HGEA members are closed today.

One silver lining to the first “;furlough Friday”;—rush-hour traffic was reported to be light throughout Oahu this morning.