When teachers exchanged the chalk for picket signs.
The Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District (BMCHSD) contains three high schools and four middle schools, one of which is John F. Kennedy High School (JFK). JFK is currently ranked as one of the top 100 schools in New York State. The current enrollment is 1,126. Recently it has undergone renovations to its athletics department with the construction of a new turf football field, freshly installed kitchens for the school’s Culinary and Hospitality Arts Program (C.H.A.M.P) Program, as well as college-level science laboratories and a successful Advanced Science Research Program conducting graduate-level research competing in national competitions. The school is known for its excellence and has been for over fifty years.
However, there was a time when the district experienced acts of protest from faculty and students alike. According to the BMCHSD Code of Conduct, “The Board is committed to providing a safe, supportive, and orderly school environment where students may receive and district personnel may deliver quality educational services without disruption or interference.” October 3rd of 1974 marked the first protest in the history of the school district where these guidelines were contest in the fight for fair conditions for educators. The faculty of 680 teachers from all of the middle and high schools across North and Central Merrick and Bellmore participated in a heated protest for eight days, seven of which were school days, leaving 10,800 students without classes.
This revolt ignited from a dispute between the district’s Board of Education of just thirteen individuals on the Board of Trustees and the teachers union protecting the hundreds of teachers: the Bellmore-Merrick United Secondary Teachers concerning the failed negotiations for amending of the contracts of teachers. The new contract would get rid of the maximum class size allowed, thus allowing the Board to hire less teachers, and save some money. If this went through, the quality of education received by students in the district would certainly be decreased while the amount of work required by teachers would increase dramatically. The small board was well aware of this During the 1974-75 school year an additional thirty classes were needed to accommodate the size of students. According to the president of the union, Philip Delea, the teachers protested to keep the class size favorable for both students and teachers, to have a fair workload for teachers, maintain job security and an acceptable salary.
Instead of being in the classroom, the teachers has made picket lines around the schools and in front of Board official’s houses to publicly protest the unfair conditions. Police did have to get involved at some of the demonstrations and there are reports of a gun being pulled. All of the student governments of the seven schools affected in the district and organized a 200 student protest outside of the Board of Education offices at Calhoun High School. Other ways that the students supported their protesting teachers were bring coffee out to the picket lines. Of the 680 teachers affected by the contract changes only six teachers chose to continue teaching. There was a huge sense of betrayal between the majority of teachers that protested and the six teachers that chose to walk past the picket lines and continue teaching during the strike and verbal and physical fights would break out. Many believe that the Board had wanted these demonstrations to continue because teachers who participated were fined for days that they were refusing to work. These fines totaled in $750,000 in fines and pay due to Taylor Law (federal employees refusing to work).
Through perseverance and a week’s worth of protest from a unified band made of hundreds of teachers, the Board got together at 3am on October 13th and agreed to allow the changes to the contracts be in favor of the teachers. This resulted from a 10-to-3 vote, so there were still some people who didn’t support the teachers even after all their public distastes for the current contract and with the teachers having the support of the community. But after long last, the worthy teachers received increased wages, better job security, and implemented a new way for classes to be arranged by skill-level of the students and clearly defined class sizes.
BMCSHD. “Code of Conduct.”
Sasson, William. “The Teacher Strike of 1974.” Uncovering the Past @ JFK, uncoveringthepast.weebly.com/history-of-jfkhs.html.
Silver, Roy R. “TEACHERS STRIKE 7 NASSAU HORS.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 4 Oct. 1974, www.nytimes.com/1974/10/04/archives/teachers-strike-17-nassau-schools-talks-in-bellmoremerrick.html.
Silver, Roy R. “Teachers in 4 L.I. Communities End Their Seven‐Day Walkout.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 16 Oct. 1974, www.nytimes.com/1974/10/16/archives/teachers-in-4-li-communities-end-their-sevenday-walkout-trustees.html.