KATY, Texas – Hundreds of Katy ISD students who walked out of class Thursday to protest teacher layoffs will not be disciplined for their actions, district officials said.
The walkouts started at Morton Ranch High School Thursday morning.
The students flooded the street outside their school, holding signs, screaming and delivering a message they felt needed to be heard: "Save our teachers."
And it didn’t stop there. The protests soon spread to other Katy ISD schools, like Cinco Ranch High School, Seven Lakes High School and even Cinco Ranch Junior High.
The walkouts were staged in response to major layoffs in the district.
Students said their teachers were pulled out of class and told they no longer had jobs – something they said was hard to watch.
The district had substitutes on standby, in case the teachers were too distraught to return to class.
One teacher who didn’t want to be named said the way the district conducted the layoffs was difficult.
"I had notes when I came back into the classroom telling me I was the best teacher they ever had. But, it was hard to go down there. And it was hard to keep my dignity, because they really did make it a spectacle being pulled out in the middle of class," the teacher said.
Katy ISD confirmed that they had to eliminate more than 500 positions because of a $50 million budget shortfall.
In all, 350 teachers and district employees lost their jobs. Another 200 were eliminated through attrition.
The job cuts will save the district about $23 million.
For the district, it was all about the budget. But for the students, it was all about the teachers.
"They’re just the greatest teachers, and they’re just getting fired. And it’s not right. It’s not right," one Morton Ranch student said.
"I don’t understand how all the schools are getting new laptops, new smart boards, spending all this money, and now they’re going to let teachers go," Cinco Ranch High School student Taylor Pomilla said.
District spokesman Steve Standford said it wasn’t that simple.
"A lot of the money that’s being used for that is bond money. Bond money, by law, cannot be used for salaries," Standford said.
Some students wondered why they couldn’t just reduce salaries, rather than eliminate jobs.
But in a letter sent to students Thursday afternoon, the Katy ISD superintendent said reducing teacher salaries to save jobs is simply against the law.
Parents questioned why Dr. Failey recently received a raise, bumping his salary from $280,000 to $288,000.
Standford said it was the same raise everyone else got – 3 percent.
District officials said they plan to treat the walkouts as a learning experience for students.
They said there would be no disciplinary actions for those who participated, but they would get absences for any classes they missed.