Seattle cancels first day of school as teachers go on strike | Education News

Classes in Seattle, Wash., have been canceled on what would have been the first day of school this fall for tens of thousands of students as teachers strike over wages, health support mental health and staffing ratios for special education and multilingual students.

Jennifer Matter, president of the Seattle Education Association, a union representing more than 6,000 teachers, paraprofessionals and office workers, said 95% of its members who submitted a ballot voted to strike Wednesday. Contract talks continued.

“Nobody wants to strike,” Matter said. “But the SPS [Seattle Public Schools] left us no choice. We can’t go back to the way things were.

The Seattle School District said in an email to parents that it was “optimistic that the negotiating teams will reach a positive solution for students, staff and families.”

Seattle’s is the latest in a wave of teacher strikes across the United States that have resumed after many schools were suspended during the coronavirus pandemic.

The pandemic has put extraordinary pressure on teachers and students. Federal stimulus money has helped stabilize school district budgets. Teachers’ unions have tried to seize the opportunity to voice their concerns and win better salaries and more resources for students and teachers after a few difficult years.

A union member proudly strikes with her homemade sign as part of a district-wide teachers’ strike outside Whetstone High School in Columbus, Ohio on Wednesday, August 24, 2022 [File: Samantha Hendrickson/AP Photo]

High inflation, a national teacher shortage and the goodwill of teachers through their pandemic schooling efforts bolster all union efforts, said Bradley Marianno, assistant professor of educational policy at the University of Nevada at Vegas.

“By all accounts, school budgets are looking pretty good right now,” Marianno said. “As teachers’ union contracts expire, they’re looking for new deals that essentially send more funding to teachers and more funding to students.”

The Seattle Teachers Union in a Twitter post late Tuesday night wrote, “The District must meet the needs of students NOW! Our negotiating team is still at the table and we are still working on an agreement. »

The strike means the cancellation of the first day of school for 47,000 Seattle students in the district, the state’s largest public school system. Teachers are expected to march in picket lines at several of the system’s 110 schools on Wednesday.

The school district said it will serve meals to students at several schools and that extracurricular activities will continue during the work stoppage.

The Seattle strike followed a four-day strike by teachers in Columbus, Ohio two weeks ago over class sizes and guaranteed air conditioning in classrooms.

Teachers in Columbus — Ohio’s largest school district — ended the strike last week, agreeing to a package that included 4% raises, building improvement plans, reduced class sizes and innovative paid leave.

In Denver, Colorado, marathon bargaining sessions last week resulted in a tentative agreement for an 8.7% raise for educators, higher pay for first-grade teachers and more money from the district for health insurance costs.

Teachers in Minneapolis, Chicago and Sacramento also exited earlier this year before securing new contracts.

What Seattle Teachers Demand

The Seattle union said it opposes school district efforts to eliminate staffing ratios for special education students, arguing that the bulk of the work will fall to general education teachers and to special education teachers.

The union also said the district’s proposals would make general education teachers more accountable for supporting multilingual students.

In a video released by the union, speech therapist Julie Salazar said she voted to allow the strike because the workload for her and other special education staff was too high.

“We can’t serve our children well and everyone knows that,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Seattle School District has offered additional 1% wage increases on top of the 5.5% cost-of-living increase set by state lawmakers — far less than what the union had said it wanted — plus one-time bonuses for some teachers, including $2,000 for Seattle third-grade teachers who earn an English or dual-language endorsement.

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