The first day of school for Seattle public school students has been postponed after the teacher’s union became the latest in recent weeks to vote to strike, demanding more support for students with the greatest needs, workload balance, and class size controls, as well as better pay.
The Seattle Education Association, which represents about 6,000 employees in Washington state’s largest public school district, is set to go on strike at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, the same day school starts for Seattle Public Schools’ 50,000 students.
The union is negotiating a contract with the school district that will “bring us back to the classrooms as soon as possible,” according to a statement. “Educators want to be in the classrooms with their students, and SPS needs to provide the supports and adult attention those students deserve.”
The school district said in its own message to parents on Tuesday that it “respects our educators and staff,” adding that “we are optimistic the bargaining teams will come to a positive solution for students, staff, and families.”
“Negotiations with SEA are ongoing,” according to the message. “We are excited to start school and welcome students and staff for the 2022-23 school year.”
Seattle Public Schools is the latest district to face uncertainty as teachers’ unions across the country go on strike to demand better working conditions for educators and students.
This includes the Kent School District in a Seattle suburb, where the Kent Education Association has been on strike since last month, causing the school year to start later. In Columbus, Ohio, teachers and staff went on strike last month, forcing classes to be held online until a resolution was reached.
Seattle Public Schools will not open on Wednesday as planned due to a strike vote by the teacher’s union.
More support for students, including interpretation and translation services for those receiving multilingual education, and improved special education staffing ratios are among the union’s negotiating priorities in Seattle.
The union also wants more support and controls in place to prevent educator burnout, such as capping class sizes and ensuring that every paraprofessional has a laptop. Finally, the union wants to raise wages, add incentive pay to attract substitute teachers, and safeguard educators’ ability to take personal days.
“93% of us work more than our assigned or contract hours, and 25% of us work 10+ extra hours per week,” the union wrote on its website. “When our jobs necessitate work outside of contract hours, such as mandatory committee meetings, SPS must recognize it by removing other tasks or compensating us for it.”
According to Jennifer Matter, president of the Seattle Teachers Union, the membership overwhelmingly supported the strike.
“We had a really difficult decision to make, and believe me, that decision on whether or not we would authorize a strike was not taken lightly,” Matter said. “Because nobody wants to go on strike.” It is not something that people choose, but SPS has given us no choice because, once again, we cannot return to the way things were, we must fight for something better.”
Following the union vote, Seattle Public Schools issued a statement stating that it is “committed to negotiating a new contract with our educators.”
Beverly Redmond, the district’s assistant superintendent of public affairs, said in a statement that the union “did agree on Monday to meet with a mediator to help guide our conversations.”
In informing families that schools would be closed on Wednesday, the district mentioned that meal sites would be open during the day and that it is working on childcare resources.