Thousands of students in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools will stay home from class today due to a planned women’s strike in honor of International Women’s Day.
Women from all professions are being encouraged to take the day off for “A Day Without a Woman," which is intended to recognize the importance of women in society. Many businesses in the area are allowing female employees to strike and CHCCS closed due to the expected staff shortage.
“We got rumblings that some people were going to be out, but we didn’t know how significant that might be," CHCCS spokesperson Jeff Nash said.
On a typical work day, Nash said the school system has about a 5 percent absentee rate for employees.
“Roughly out of 2,000 employees, we were expecting 400 to be out, and that’s bus drivers, child nutrition, teachers — it’s everybody," he said.
Patty Berge, a career and technical education teacher at East Chapel Hill High School, planned to participate in the strike before the district canceled class.
“I’ve heard people say, ‘Oh what is it that the teachers in Chapel Hill are upset with or dissatisfied with?’" Berge said. “I think it’s more showing solidarity for women across the nation, and I think it’s a good role model for students to see that their teachers are affected by what is going on."
Berge was initially disappointed that the district decided to close, because she thought the point of the strike would be missed. She said she’s heard many people say the teachers’ choice to strike is irresponsible. After reflecting, however, Berge thinks the impact will still be there.
“We are not allowed to be political in the classroom, which is understandable, but (the students) do learn about history and civil disobedience and they kind of get a small glimpse of it," she said.
Some parents have expressed anger or disappointment over the sudden school closure. Christopher Gingerich, father of a McDougle Middle School student, said the schools should have only let a certain number of teachers take off work instead of closing the entire district.
“I understand that people have a right to do this, but the employers also have a right to keep their business open and not shut it down because people aren’t coming in," Gingerich said. “I know people are going to do what they want to, but I just don’t think it’s fair to the kids."
Caroline Weis, mother of two Estes Hills Elementary School students, said the schools should have been better prepared.
“There are a lot of people having to scramble to find child care and a lot of moms and dads missing out on pay," she said.
Unlike CHCCS, most local businesses won’t close because of the strike. But some still support what the strike stands for.
Bridget Pemberton-Smith, owner of Cameron’s in Carrboro, said the store won’t close but will support the women’s strike.
“Since they are encouraging women to not shop as much, business may be a little slower, but at the same time they are encouraging people to shop at woman-owned businesses, so maybe we will get a little extra traffic because of that," she said.
Pemberton-Smith said Cameron’s will also offer a 20 percent discount for all teachers and staff in the school system. She said the day was very important for her personally and that she felt lucky to be part of the cause.
“Women’s equality has kind of been challenged recently under the new administration with the rhetoric that is being used, and it has not been necessarily supportive of women," she said.
She also said she felt empowered because of the impact of International Women’s Day in the community.
“CHCSS had to close solely because so many female teachers and staff were planning on striking that it would not have been a safe or functioning environment without them — I think that is very significant," Pemberton-Smith said.
Catherine Palomba, coordinator of WomanCraft Gifts in Carrboro, said the store would stay open for similar reasons to Cameron’s.
“We are going to be open because they are encouraging people to support women-owned businesses — because that is what we want, to see women be successful," Palomba said. “Those who want to should go out and support small businesses who are run by women."
Merritt’s Store and Grill manager Claudia Palacios said the shop is actively supporting any employees who participate. Palacios said she has seen firsthand the disparities between men and women in the workplace.
Some organizations are providing services to support women who must work tomorrow and need child care or other assistance. Megan Toben, co-founder and director of the Eco-Institute at Pickards Mountain, said the organization will hold a camp for kids on Wednesday.
“We imagined that there might be parents that needed a place for their children to be, so we decided that that’s how we wanted to (show) solidarity with the women," Toben said.
She said the camp would provide scholarships for children from families in need. The camp will also help students understand the purpose of the day off.
“I think it’s very important that we all take this opportunity to recognize the contributions that women make within our community," Toben said. “For that reason, the focus of the camp will be on honoring and celebrating the women in our lives."
In addition, TABLE will provide food on Wednesday for children who rely on school lunches.
Pemberton-Smith said she is hopeful about the statement the day will make.
“I believe it’s especially important right now for women to stand up and have their voices heard and fight for equality — as much as I’d like to say that women have equality today, they really don’t," she said.