For students, it’s an extra day of summer. For parents, it’s a challenge to find childcare and provide meals for their children at a day’s notice. For Seattle public school teachers, it’s an opportunity to earn better pay and healthy working conditions.
“We can’t go back to school without a commitment to address unmet student needs and educator burnout.”
That’s yesterday’s tweet from the Seattle Education Association, a union comprising nearly 6,000 educators who work for Seattle Public Schools. And based on today’s decision to strike, it’s apparent that a deal has not yet been struck.
“Alright, we’ve got to name the elephant in the room right now,” said Jennifer Matter, president of the SEA, yesterday in a Facebook video at a public gathering. “I think most of you, if not all of you, have seen that Seattle Public Schools has already decided that school is canceled tomorrow.”
The statement was met with audible “boo’s” from the crowd. One attendee shouted, “Quitters!”
The strike began at 7:30 a.m. today, resulting in Washington state’s second-largest public school district, which serves 50,000 students.
Unlike Columbus City Schools in Ohio, whose teachers successfully went on strike on the district’s first day of school last week, Seattle schools are not offering a remote option for students, leaving parents in a difficult situation.
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However, the district is taking steps to assist parents who need help providing meals and finding childcare. “Student meals will be provided at several school sites,” the district said in a message to parents Wednesday. “We are also reaching out to community childcare providers to help support our families.”
According to the union, they’re fighting for additional support for programs surrounding special education and multilingual education, as well as a reduced workload, smaller classroom sizes and higher pay. “Ninety-three percent of us are working more than our assigned or contracted hours, and 25% of us are working 10+ additional hours a week,” the union posted on its website. “When our jobs require work outside of contract hours, such as mandatory committee meetings, SPS must acknowledge it by removing other tasks or recognize it with additional pay.”
The SEA is also asking for healthier school culture, reporting “pervasive toxicity and racism” in its schools. According to their bargaining demands, more than half of the union’s members have or have considered switching buildings, districts or even careers “because of racism, discrimination, harassment, intimidation, bullying, or lack of respect.”
According to Matter, gaining respect is of the utmost priority for the union. “And the bottom line is that we know what it’s gonna take to reach a tentative agreement,” she said in a statement. “We know it’s going to take collaboration and respect. And right now, we’re not getting the level of respect we need at the bargaining table for our educators.”