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(SEATTLE) — The largest school district in Washington state did not welcome students back for the second day in a row after its educators’ union went on strike.
Wednesday would have been the first day of school for Seattle Public Schools, which serves more than 50,000 students. Picketers have been lining up at schools across the district after the Seattle Education Association overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike on Tuesday. Of the 75% of members who voted, 95% voted in favor of a strike.
Schools remain closed on Thursday as negotiations continue, the school district said.
The union had previously rejected a proposal from the school district to start the school year on time without a contract, which expired last month, amid the negotiations.
Among the sticking points for the union — which represents some 6,000 certificated teachers, substitutes, paraprofessionals and office professionals — are more special education teachers and greater mental health and behavioral resources.
“We know that we need to put our commitment to students in writing when it comes to staffing for special education,” Jennifer Matter, the union president, told ABC Seattle affiliate KOMO-TV.
The union is seeking to improve staffing ratios in special education, while the district said it is focusing on student needs “rather than fixed staff ratios” to improve service and inclusion.
The school district is the latest to see teacher strikes during the pandemic, which has exacerbated an existing teacher crisis over working conditions.
“Last year was extraordinarily rough,” Jamilah Bomani, a fourth-grade teacher, told KOMO. “I’ve been with Seattle Public Schools for eight years and I’ve never seen a year like it.”
As bargaining continued on Wednesday, both the union and district seemed optimistic they could reach an agreement on the new school year contract soon.
“Seattle Public Schools respects our educators and staff,” the district said in a statement to families. “We are optimistic the bargaining teams will come to a positive solution for students, staff, and families.”
Matter told KOMO there is “absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t be able to reach a tentative agreement. We just need the district to match our sense of urgency.”
Meanwhile, with school not in session, the district is providing free lunches and said it is reaching out to child care providers to help support families.
Kristi Foutz, a parent with one school-aged child, told KOMO her husband’s schedule allows him to be home with their children while she’s at work.
“It will be definitely challenging for all those parents out there,” she said.
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