Durham students to return to classes Tuesday. What’s next for Durham Public Schools?

Durham Public Schools will reopen Tuesday after striking employees brought the district to a standstill late last week.

All schools were closed to students Friday and Monday after district leaders said transportation employees called out of work.

“This does not include our bus drivers, but we cannot operate buses without mechanics and transportation supervisors,” Board of Education Chair Bettina Umstead said in a news release Friday. “Since 75% of our students are bus riders, we are unable to hold school if our buses cannot operate.”

Some families scrambled to find emergency child care or brought their kids to work with them. Others took unscheduled days off.

A district spokesperson said Monday afternoon that the schedule for making up those days remains undecided.

Luna Gomez, a fourth grader at Holt Elementary School, addresses the Durham Public Schools Board of Education meeting on Thursday, February 8, 2024 at the Staff Development Center in Durham, N.C.
Luna Gomez, a fourth grader at Holt Elementary School, addresses the Durham Public Schools Board of Education meeting on Thursday, February 8, 2024 at the Staff Development Center in Durham, N.C.

It’s unclear what the protesting transportation staff want.

For the past month, the district has been thrown into chaos by budgeting errors that prompted the administration to withdraw raises promised to classified staff, including transportation workers, but also instructional assistants, custodians, physical therapists, interpreters, cafeteria workers and more.

The Durham Association of Educators, which organized protests that closed 12 schools one day and seven schools another, had all of its demands met last week when the school board agreed to meet with the union and pay the higher salaries promised last year through February.

“We were thrilled that the Board listened to our collective voice,” a written statement from DAE said. “We also understand the continued frustration and stress workers feel.”

What will happen with pay the rest of the school year remains undetermined. The school board has met five times since the issues were unveiled in mid-January, but has been unable to reach a consensus.

Durham County Public Schools staff, parents and community members rally and picket outside DPS’s Fuller Building in downtown Durham Monday, Feb. 5, 2024. Salary issues have plunged the district into chaos. The issues stem from an accounting error that resulted in administration withdrawing raises promised to 1,300 school staff, prompting protests and strikes since mid-January.

What’s next?

  • 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 15: The Durham Association of Educators meets with the school board.

  • 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 22: The next scheduled school board meeting.

Interim superintendent Catty Moore, who took over last week after the resignation of Pascal Mubenga, is expected to attend both meetings.