Around 700 teachers and supporters boarded charter buses at the RP Funding Center early this morning to ride to Tallahassee for a rally in support of public education that’s expected to attract thousands.

In Lakeland, a large crowd is expected at Munn Park at 4:30 today for a companion rally and march to support higher state funding for education. Speakers include Jennifer Sabin, an advocate of education reform. LkldNow plans to live-stream the rally on our Facebook page.

More than 1,000 Polk teachers, foreground, attended today’s rally at the state Capitol. Several hundred traveled in private vehicles.

The buses leaving Lakeland for Tallahassee this morning included more than teachers, Polk Education Association President Stephanie Yokum told 10 News this morning.

“We have education support staff on our buses. We have parents. We have community members. We have elected officials on our bus. This is a community issue,” she said.

But Yocum also told News Channel 8 that some teachers backed out from the Tallahassee trip after receiving an email Friday night warning that a mass departure of teachers from their classrooms could be construed as an illegal strike and subject the teachers to firing.

That letter was written by Matthew Mears, general counsel for the state Department of Education, after Polk Schools Superintendent Jaqueline Byrd sought guidance from the state about legal ramifications of filling vacancies of the 1,300 to 1,600 teachers who had requested personal leave to attend today’s rally.

While the Tallahassee rally is expected to draw thousands of teachers statewide, the letter was sent only to Polk educators.

In a hastily called news conference Sunday evening, Byrd said no teachers would be fired for attending today’s rally and maintained forwarding Mears’ email was meant to educate teachers about state law, not to threaten them.

Byrd’s news conference:

YouTube video

Byrd also outlined steps being taken to ensure classrooms are staffed, including the use of 650 substitute teachers, 450 administrators, and 30 sheriff’s deputies with college degrees. 

People attending today’s rally in Munn Park are being asked to wear red, the same color being worn by those attending the Tallahassee gathering.

In advance of the rally, INK Screen Printing in Lakeland printed the rally’s “Red for Ed” logo Sunday for people who brought in clean red T-shirts.

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Barry Friedman founded in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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