INDIANAPOLIS – Thousands of Indiana teachers will descend on the Statehouse on Tuesday in what will likely be the largest rally in decades – a crowd that will no doubt test the building's capacity.
More than 14,000 Hoosiers have registered for the Red For Ed day at the Statehouse – an attempt to show lawmakers they want change on the ceremonial first day of the legislative session.
And while teacher pay is getting most of the attention, educators also have concerns about standardized testing and licensing requirements.
The mass demonstration has caused more than 130 districts statewide to cancel classes – including Fort Wayne Community Schools and other local schools.
“It's our presence that matters,” said Sally Sloan, executive director of American Federation of Teachers Indiana.
“We are collectively committed to fighting for the investments our children need to thrive, as well as the professional freedom of our teachers to serve individual students in a way that honors our years of specialized training and experience.”
Tuesday's events start outside – including a march around the grounds – but head indoors where lawmakers in the House and Senate will be meeting starting at 1 p.m.
The largest known event at the Statehouse was a 1995 labor rally when 20,000 Hoosiers showed up. But it was held outside, as was a 2017 rally that drew 8,000 in support of women's rights. Another labor rally in 2011 also drew 8,000 but again was held outside.
In February 1995 – a month before the massive labor event – 5,000 union workers rallied inside the building.
“It was a little terrifying to walk down the hall because the floors seemed to be shaking,” one former state staffer wrote on Twitter last week.
The capacity of the Statehouse is a little hard to pin down.
Dave Hosick, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, said there is 30,000-square-feet of space that can be occupied on the main floor of the Statehouse. He said that translates into a capacity of about 6,000 people on the main floor. Additional people can go to the third and fourth floors and look over the balcony but an overall occupancy is unclear.
“That's the general benchmark we will be assessing,” he said. The Department of Homeland Security houses the State Fire Marshal's Office.
“We will make sure things stay cozy and comfortable,” Hosick said, noting history shows only a fraction of people usually show up to rallies compared with registration or expectations.
He acknowledged it will be hard to gauge the exact number of those in the building. He said those going through the magnetometers are counted but staffers, media, lawmakers and lobbyists use badges to get in. There are also eight exits that don't track people leaving.
The Indiana Department of Administration, Indiana Department of Homeland Security and Indiana State Police will have an operations center in the building Tuesday, and will jointly assess safety issues.
In 2012 the administration of former Gov. Mitch Daniels briefly tried to set a 3,000-person limit in the building when union members were regularly attending to protest a right-to-work law. The first 1,500 people allowed in were those with badges, which left space for about 1,500 citizens. But those rules were abandoned within a few days.
Jill Carnell, chief administrative officer for the Indiana Department of Administration, said citizens can enter through three doors Tuesday. Normally, two doors are designated. Tuesday's entrances are the west side off Orr Plaza; the east side off Capitol Avenue and the south side off Washington Street.
They open at 8 a.m. and those entering will have to go through metal detectors. The usual rules apply – such as no weapons. Teachers can bring in signs but they can't be attached to sticks or poles.
Several food trucks will be outside the Statehouse and the first 2,000 attendees to check in at the Indiana State Teachers Association tent will receive 20% off coupons to eat at the Circle Center Mall food court.
Both teacher associations coordinating the rally are stressing the need for patience as it could take hours to get everyone in the building.
“Plan to be flexible. It's hard to move 10,000 people and get them through Statehouse security. Anticipate airport-like security with bag X-rays and metal detector,” the Red for Ed website says.
If you go
What: Red For Ed Action Day
Who: Indiana teachers and public school supporters
When: Tuesday, with outside march kicking off at 10:50 a.m.; other activities inside start around 1 p.m.
Where: Indiana Statehouse, 200 W. Washington St., Indianapolis. Doors off of Washington Street, Capitol Avenue and Orr Plaza will be open
More: Teachers can also download an app, maps and parking information at www.ista-in.org