City teachers' protest disrupts school board meeting Frustrated instructors try to enter packed room, then pound on windows

October 15, 1997|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

About 600 teachers and teachers' aides gave the new Baltimore City school board a lesson in labor relations yesterday evening, staging a protest that disrupted the board's meeting, slowed traffic on North Avenue, led to confrontations with school police and brought out city police.

"A lot of us are just fed up," said Thomas Parker, a 29-year veteran who teaches at Northern High School, after school police turned away a throng of teachers trying to enter the Department of Education's North Avenue headquarters, where the board meets.

The teachers were protesting the lack of a contract.

School police officers noted fire regulations in prohibiting entry to the building and the board hearing room, which was packed.

Protesters then began pounding on the windows of the first-floor hearing room, where the board was conducting its weekly session. The noise made it difficult for board members to hear a presentation by Peabody Institute Director Robert Sirota about the need for fine-arts education.

"There's someone who's learned the importance of keeping time through rhythm," Sirota said as the pounding increased.

Robert E. Schiller, chief executive for the schools, left the meeting to confer with security personnel as the banging continued. School police officers then appeared outside of the hearing room windows to keep the protesters -- chanting "We Shall Not Be Moved" -- from the glass.

Marcia Brown, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, led protesters from the building to the sidewalk, where they chanted slogans to passing motorists and urged drivers to honk in support.

When four city police cruisers arrived a short time later, they were met by a spirited but friendly crowd that chanted slogans to the beat of a drum. Brown used a bullhorn to lead the crowd.

Sandra Morgan, a teacher at Windsor Hills Elementary School, said she attended the rally with two objectives in mind. "We want support from the board and respect in the community," she said.

Leonard Hamm, chief of the school police, said city police officers were called to help handle the crowd, which swelled from 400 to about 600 during the two-hour demonstration.

Loretta Johnson, president of the BTU unit representing school aides, said the protesters are frustrated at the lack of progress in contract talks.

The current pact expired June 30, and teachers are working for their second consecutive year without a pay raise.

Pub Date: 10/15/97

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