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Public schools seem unwilling to acknowledge teacher protests

Despite some teachers calling in sick to protest low wages, the school district says they don't have any evidence of sick-outs happening. (Mummolo/KTUL)

Come Monday, scores of teachers will swarm the capitol to demonstrate for higher pay, but here in Tulsa, some say teachers have already been demonstrating for weeks.

"I'm inspired by their courage to take that kind of risk," said Edison teacher Larry Cagle, speaking out two weeks ago about a secretive movement of teachers calling in sick to protest dismal wages. Secretive because of fear that they could be fired for what they're doing.

"Nobody's going to confess, and nobody's going to turn anybody else in," Cagle said.

After our story ran, it was posted on the Oklahoma Teachers United Facebook page with the simple comment, "They can't ignore us any longer." But when Tulsa's Channel 8 asked the school district to comment on the sick-outs, they responded in part, "We do not have evidence of any sort of district-wide spike in teacher absences that might indicate a 'sick-out.'"

"I don't know who's doing it, and I don't know exactly what is going on, but it's plain to see that something's going on and it's both a scream of frustration and a cry for help," said Booker T. Washington teacher John Waldron. He says the sick-outs have not happened at his school, and even talking about whether or not sick-outs are happening is a touchy subject.

"It is hard because teachers are hanging on by their fingertips right now, and some of us are really desperate and they deserve to be acknowledged but at the same time, we have to have a school system that operates," Waldron said.

A source tells Channel 8 that Edison has had four sick-outs so far, the latest resulting in this photo of several classes having to converge in the cafeteria due to the teacher absences.

A photo which we showed to the administration and to which they replied, "We do not have evidence of any sort of district-wide spike in teacher absences that might indicate a 'sick-out.'" All of which begs the question, if a protest is so secretive it's not even acknowledged, is it really a protest at all?

Full statement from TPS's Deputy Superintendent Paula Shannon:

"Great teachers are the heart of successful schools. As a state and as a district, we have a long way to go to get to where we need to be: a destination for excellence in teaching and learning where teachers feel supported and respected. We work closely with the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association to advocate for better working conditions for our teachers. We know that teacher morale is low and that substantive changes are necessary. We do not, however, have evidence of any sort of district-wide spike in teacher absences that might indicate a 'sick-out.' The TCTA represents the Tulsa Public Schools educator team, and they have not issued a call for a 'sick-out.' We would encourage our team members – and anyone who wants a better future for our teachers, our children, and our state – to contact their legislators and let them know that it is past time to implement a meaningful solution that will allow our educators to thrive."

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