A day without women? Teacher protest shuts US city schools

Alexandria (United States) (AFP) – What does a day without women look like? The city of Alexandria, Virginia, just outside the US capital, found out on Wednesday as an avalanche of teacher requests for time off to mark International Women’s Day forced it to close down its entire public school district.

Alexandria’s unprecedented decision — announced two days ahead of time to give parents time to plan for the disruption — appeared to be broadly well received in the progressive northern Virginia city.

Softening the blow, one of its elementary schools, Patrick Henry, set up a temporary day care costing just $15 so parents did not have to take the day off.

Local resident Elizabeth Proctor, dropping off her young daughter, said she “definitely” supported the movement — part of a nationwide “Day Without a Woman” protest called to highlight women’s pivotal role in society.

“You really see how much we do, and how much we do impact the world around us,” she told AFP.

Another parent, Nicole Radshaw, did not hesitate to take the day off to join in the protest.

“Although closing the schools may be inconvenient for some, I think an action like this has to be disruptive in order to be effective,” she said.

“It will make our power heard.”

Any momentary inconvenience, she said, “is lesser than the inconveniences and challenges women face in our society and in this current political climate.”

– ‘Unprecedented’ –

Wednesday’s day of action was spearheaded by several of the groups behind the massive Women’s March event held the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

Organizers called for women to take the day off work and avoid shopping to highlight issues such as pay inequality.

In Alexandria’s schools, the uptake was massive: out of 1,400 teachers, more than 300 asked to take the day off, according to Helen Lloyd, head of communications for the city’s public schools.

“This is unprecedented for us,” Lloyd said.

“It’s the first time we’ve had to make a call like this in Alexandria City Public Schools. We have never had a time when we’ve had so many staff members who have submitted a personal leave on the same day.”

Lloyd stressed that, by closing the school system, Alexandria was not sending a political message.

“We just reacted to the situation,” she said. “This is not a decision influenced by politics, it’s a decision that was influenced by the safety of our students and our ability to deliver instructional learning for that day.”

Lloyd also said she was aware that two days was a pretty short lead time for parents.

“We tried to give them as much time as possible to find a solution with child care,” she said.

“We’ve also put services in place to make sure that we minimize the impact on families so we have breakfast and lunch service for any of our students.”

– ‘Very progressive’ –

Radshaw was not surprised the “Day Without a Woman” protest was well followed in Alexandria — apparently more than elsewhere across the country — because her city is in “a very progressive area.”

“Most of the people here voted for Hillary Clinton,” she said. “We’re exposed to many different cultures and many different types of people.”

In last year’s election 76 percent of Alexandria voters cast ballots for the Democrat Clinton, while Republican Trump earned just 17 percent of the vote.

Trump — whose campaign was nearly derailed by sexual harassment charges — tweeted Wednesday that he had “tremendous respect” for women, triggering a deluge of scorn on social media.

Maureen McNulty, who took the day off to spend it with her children, said Wednesday was a logical follow-up to the initial Women’s March.

“It’s a way to bring attention to women’s rights, better pay, better working conditions — and I would say because I’m a nurse, better health care for women,” she said.

She said she wanted her children to become politically active, and — rather than have them spend the day in front of the TV — planned to take them to a rally for abortion rights being held on Capitol Hill.

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