Teaching Profession

To Support Their Teachers, Teens Are Organizing a Student Strike—on TikTok

By Madeline Will — August 28, 2019 3 min read
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Update, 8/29: The Clark County Education Association has reached a deal with the school district, calling off the planned teacher strike. The student strike is now off, too.

As teachers in Clark County, Nev., prepare to strike over a salary dispute, high school students in the district are posting messages of solidarity—and a call to action—on the social platform TikTok.

“Literally, [the district] won’t pay the teachers what the teachers earned,” student Gillian Sullivan said in a video. “Personally, I don’t think this is fair, and I’m kind of sick of our district thinking it’s OK to walk all over teachers and students all of the time. ... If you’re sick of this too, and you want respect for yourself as a student but also for your teachers, please strike Sept. 5 because I’m done, and you should be, too. Teachers deserve more respect than that. And it’s disgusting.”

TikTok allows users to make short videos—many of which are inspired by memes and viral challenges. It has more than one billion monthly active users around the world, and in the United States, most users are between the ages of 16 and 24.

Gillian’s video has received 35,000 likes and more than 700 comments, many from users across the country, who posted complaints about their own school district. In a follow-up video, Gillian, 16, suggested Sept. 5—which is a few days before Clark County teachers would go on strike—be a national action for students.

“No one is stopping, like, the whole nation from striking,” she said. “Everyone is saying that their school district is bad. Nationally, the school system is broken and like, we can fix it by not going to school, and the government realizing that we all see a problem as teenagers.”

It’s not clear how many students are actually planning on walking out of school in Clark County, which encompasses Las Vegas and is the nation’s fifth-largest district with about 320,000 students. The school district did not respond to a request for comment, and the local teachers’ union declined to comment on planned student activities.

But Gillian told Buzzfeed News that her fellow classmates have been talking about the proposed student strike in school, and some have pledged to walk out. She plans to stand outside her high school on the morning of Sept. 5 and tell any students who haven’t heard about the planned collective action that they should skip school, too.

“I know for a lot of kids this will be just a ‘ditch day,’ but I genuinely do care about the teachers and the betterment of my school,” she told Buzzfeed. “Once school has started, I’m gonna go home, and I’m probably gonna watch TikToks for the rest of that day.”

After all, that’s where teens have been posting both their messages of frustration about the district and support for students. Another Clark County student, Leonardo Bueno, posted a three-part TikTok where he listed several problems he felt were facing the district.

“We should also be speaking up about teachers being underpaid and not getting their salary,” said Leonardo, 17, in his TikTok. “Teachers put their life and dedication in teaching us, because they are teaching the future of this country.”

If the district and the union cannot come to an agreement, Clark County teachers plan to strike as early as Sept. 10. Among other issues, teachers are asking for more pay for continuing education—union leaders say about 2,000 teachers have done enough professional development to move to a higher column in the salary schedule without receiving a pay raise.

Meanwhile, the school district has filed for an injunction to stop the strike. Teacher strikes are illegal under Nevada law. According to the Associated Press, if a judge issues an order against a strike, the union can be fined up to $50,000 a day and striking employees can be punished or fired. The judge has set a Sept. 30 hearing for the injunction. It’s not clear if the district will seek to move this up.

The Clark County Education Association has said it will remain at the bargaining table, and will challenge the law that makes striking illegal in state courts.

Meanwhile, Gillian told Buzzfeed that teachers have been supportive of her efforts to organize a student strike.

“A lot of teachers have said they’re proud of me and really appreciate that I’m getting students involved,” she said.

Students have staged walkouts in the past—most notably last year, when thousands of students across the country walked out to call for stricter gun laws.

Image via TikTok

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.