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How Oklahoma Parents Are Dealing With Teacher Walkouts

Thousands of Oklahoma teachers and supporters rally in the state's capital.
J Pat Carter
Getty Images
Thousands of Oklahoma teachers and supporters rally in the state's capital.

When Evan Taylor heard that Oklahoma teachers planned to walkout, he converted his small Tulsa church into a "glorified daycare" furnished with board games, crafts and a movies to keep kids entertained.

For the last nine days, Taylor, a minister at East Side Christian Church, has hosted between 12 and 60 children with the help of three to five volunteers. In addition to offering childcare, the church is also one of the 73 meal distribution centers in Tulsa providing meals to hungry students who would normally rely on school cafeterias to feed them during the week.

"Organizing volunteers, signing up for food services and keeping a mix aged group of kiddos entertained has been no simple act, but I'm proud to do it," Taylor, a father of three, wrote to NPR in an email. "My kids are worth it, my teachers are worth it. My state is worth it."

Taylor is one of the hundreds of Oklahoma NPR listeners who responded to our recent callout: How are you as a parent dealing with Oklahoma's teacher walkout?

Many parents responded, most showing their unyielding support of the movement, noting that teachers were not just demanding a pay raise for themselves, but also funding for better textbooks and classroom supplies.

The walkout is a "little inconvenient, but nothing in comparison to what our teachers face every day in underfunded classrooms and abysmal salaries," Kristen Palfreyman of Broken Arrow, Okla., wrote in a Facebook comment. "Hold steady teachers or we won't have proper education funding for decades more."

Perhaps the biggest obstacle for parents is figuring out what to do with their kids during regular school hours. Oklahoma parents can use guides like the one made by Tulsa Area United Way to locate places for food, recreational activities and child care.

Respondents say they rely on extended family and pop-up daycares to provide a safe place for their kids to go during the day. But finding adequate care for students with disabilities can be a challenge.

Josh Fearing teaches middle-school kids diagnosed with autism. Fearing knew his students' parents would have trouble finding daycare on short notice. So he reached out to a local church to provide a space for his students to stay during the day. For nearly two weeks, Fearing has worked to keep his kids entertained by organizing a pizza party and bringing the Oklahoma City Thunder's Rolling Thunder Book Bus for his students to pick out books.

This is a just a "new school with old teachers," Fearing tells his students in an attempt to provide a sense of normalcy. "We are in a new place but it's still the same old faces."

Fearing "has been a godsend to us," wrote Miranda Steffen, a parent of one of his students. "I was able to work last week and today," she says. "I was able to go up to the capital with my 6-year-old so he could see politics in action."

Despite the child care shuffle, many parents were enthusiastic about the surge of activism, optimistic this momentum can be channeled into voting booths.

"November can't get here soon enough," wrote Lauren Florence of Oklahoma City in an email to NPR.

Other parents participated in the protests. Holly Anderson of Norman, Okla., took her kids to the state Capitol to bring bagels and coffee to their teachers.

"I trust the teachers with my child's life, how could I do anything but support them," Anderson wrote in an email. "They aren't asking for anything unreasonable. They are just asking to make a livable wage and the tools they need to do their jobs well. They deserve all of it."

Emily Wendler reported this story for radio and Erin B. Logan reported for web.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

In graduate school at the University of Montana, Emily Wendler focused on Environmental Science and Natural Resource reporting with an emphasis on agriculture. About halfway through her Master’s program a professor introduced her to radio and she fell in love. She has since reported for KBGA, the University of Montana’s college radio station and Montana’s PBS Newsbrief. She was a finalist in a national in-depth radio reporting competition for an investigatory piece she produced on campus rape. She also produced in-depth reports on wind energy and local food for Montana Public Radio. She is very excited to be working in Oklahoma City, and you can hear her work on all things from education to agriculture right here on KOSU.
Erin B. Logan
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
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