SEATTLE — There will be no class Friday for Seattle Public Schools (SPS) after teachers went on strike over issues that include pay, mental health support, and staffing ratios for special education and multilingual students.
The first day of school was set for Wednesday, Sept. 7.
Seattle Education Association (SEA), the union representing SPS teachers, announced authorization to strike after a vote over the Labor Day Weekend concluded Tuesday morning. The union said 95% of the votes from SEA members were in favor of authorizing a strike. The strike began at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Educators plan to picket at schools across Seattle every weekday until an agreement with the district can be reached and the strike ends.
Student meals will be provided at several school sites. Free sack lunches are available for all students and will be available for pick up from around 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. Locations and details can be found on the district's Family Resources page.
SPS is also working with community partners on child care resources. School athletics are expected to continue even amid the strike, the district said.
The city of Seattle is also offering recreation activity hubs at eight community centers for school-aged children. Families can register online starting Sept. 8. Find a list of the centers here.
A spokesperson for the Washington Education Association said in a statement Wednesday that bargaining was ongoing between the two sides.
The next collective bargaining session between the SEA and SPS is scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday. The union and district are expected to meet through the weekend if a tentative agreement is not reached Friday.
Families will be notified by 3 p.m. if there is no school the next day, according to SPS.
SEA educators said they are fighting for "student support, reasonable workloads, and respectful pay" from SPS. The SEA told KING 5 some progress has been made with the district, but not on the big topics.
SPS said it proposed a 6.5% pay increase to help with the cost of living in Seattle. However, the union said the state has already funded a 5.5% pay increase, so the district is only adding a 1% increase to their salary.
Another big topic in the negotiations is hiring more teachers and support staff to help with class sizes and caseloads. A teacher KING 5 spoke with Friday morning said this is an opportunity for the district to bring in more diverse voices.
“The staff should be a representation of the students in the school. That is the biggest thing,” said Special Education Teacher Ibi Idowu. “Kids need to see teachers that look like them. They need to have books that represent who they are. When we talk about being culturally responsive, that's what it means. It's not just saying that it's demonstrating what that looks like.”
Another big topic in negations is the district moving into an inclusion model for special education students. This means students with an individualized education program would be placed in classrooms in a general education setting with the rest of their peers. The union said this would not be successful unless the district provided funding to make sure special education students have the resources they need.
“If our students are going into the classroom, and let’s say they don’t read, if they don’t have picture support, if they don’t have that audio, they can’t talk to text, if they don’t have access to those things, that inclusion model that we’re talking about, [then] placing those students into the classroom is not going to be successful for them,” explained Idowu.
Bryan Manzo, a counselor at Eckstein Middle School, told KING 5 Thursday morning that there is one counselor for every 370 students at the school, which makes it challenging to give each student the time and attention they deserve.
“I do think that we lost our opportunity and access for two years," explained Manzo. "I think that, you know, for some folks, they might catch up in different ways, but to understand how as a community of diverse learners and educators that takes time and it takes a lot of thoughtful attention."
Manzo added that the COVID-19 pandemic heightened mental health struggles for students.
"The needs were off the charts, students' academic needs, their mental health needs, the social-emotional supports,” said SEA President Jennifer Matter, in regards to why more student supports are necessary.
SPS is among several districts across Washington dealing with potential or active educator strikes.
Teachers in Kent, the state's fifth-largest district, went on strike on Aug. 25. The Kent Teachers Association said the union and the district came to a tentative agreement "in the wee hours of the morning" on Sept. 7, and union members approved the new collective bargaining agreement with the district later that day. Classes at most schools began on Sept. 8, two weeks after they were scheduled to start. The first day of kindergarten is expected to be Sept. 13.
Eatonville also is navigating negotiations with their union, while Port Angeles saw a tentative agreement reached between the union and district on Monday.
SPS issued a statement saying the district has offered legal mediation to reach a contract agreement before Sept. 7, but that the offer was declined by the SEA.
While the union wants higher pay for the lowest paid staff, a bulk of its demands include better support systems for special education and multilingual programs, plus better control over class sizes.