Bel Air Elementary teachers protest Wednesday

A group of 25 to 30 teachers, nearly all of them dressed in school colors, walked out of Bel Air Elementary School in unison promptly at 3:50 Wednesday afternoon.

Most carried signs as they marched from Lee Street to the corner of Main Street and held them up while chanting "teachers care!"

A few signs read, "HCPS teachers deserve more than apples" and "teachers + compensation = achievement."

Fourth-grade teacher Cheryl Graziano has taught at Bel Air Elementary for 10 years and commented that she hasn't seen her fellow educators ban together like this in a long time.

Graziano wanted to protest that afternoon because "the board of education is just taking more and more away from us," referring to health insurance plans.

She added that the county also made a "promise" to deliver the second half of the bonus and took that away, as well.

"The price of food is going up and my salary is not," Graziano said.

Steve Benson, who works with Harford's teacher union on a temporary basis with UniServ, said 17 schools that he knew of picketed that afternoon and 19 additional schools were believed to join Thursday.

"It's a very unfortunate situation," he said. "The education of a student is dependent on the quality of instruction," adding that Harford County is no longer compensating its teachers on par with the surrounding counties.

At Bel Air Middle School earlier that day, Benson noted that the teachers received a "very good response" from the public, with a "constant blare of horns" from cars driving past the picketers.

The public, he continued, "is realizing it's not about the teacher only. It's about the education of the students."

UniServ is a national organization that helps local education associations achieve their goals.

Still chanting, the teachers walked up Main Street, down Courtland, then Hickory Avenue before walking back to the school.

Third-grade teacher Jessica Manns said she's enrolled in a graduate program to earn her master's degree.

While the school system reimburses some of the costs for teachers when they go back to school for their master's, which they are required to do, Manns noted that she has put in a "significant amount of money out of my pocket to pay for the program."

"I invest a lot in my job," she continued, "but the county doesn't have the same passion to make me the best I can be."

Manns said the teachers "really want the best" for their schools and students.

Still, she said, no one is at fault for the ongoing conflict.

"There's a problem here and it needs to be fixed," Mann said. Without that, "we can't move forward."

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