50,000 Students Left in the Lurch as Teachers Union Launches Strike Hours Before School Year Was to Begin


Teachers from one of the most liberal cities in the United States are delaying the start of school for tens of thousands of students over disputes about their pay.

Seattle Public Schools were supposed to begin classes on Wednesday, The Seattle Times reported. But teachers from the Seattle Education Association said they would continue to strike after negotiations continued late into Tuesday night without a resolution.

“Seattle Public Schools will not start school as planned on Wednesday, Sept. 7, because of a planned work stoppage by Seattle Education Association (SEA),” SPS wrote in a news release Tuesday night.

“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 approximately 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. We are also reaching out to community childcare providers to help support our families.”

A list of demands from SEA implored SPS to raise pay even higher than the 5.5 percent raise already funded by the state for a Cost of Living Adjustment, and it demanded a lighter workload “to prevent educators from burnout.”

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It also included demands about staffing ratios for special education and multilingual classes.

The district has offered pay increases for both full-time teachers and substitutes, the Times reported, but SEA members continue to demand more money than SPS is offering.

Parents wrote on social media to express their stress about finding last minute child care for children who were supposed to be in school.

“My biggest frustration with the district is how they communicate what’s happening … they also point to disagreements around the [special education] and language access programming, which horribly stigmatizes children and families that access those resources,” SPS parent Michelle Kim Neubaue wrote in a Twitter message, according to the Times.

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About 50,000 students are enrolled in the district, and all of them are left without classrooms to go to as teachers continue to strike.

Both management and labor said special education is the main concern in negotiations, but Seattle Council PTSA co-chair Samantha Fogg said significant progress had already been made on this issue.

A special education task force including SPS employees, union members and parents was previously created, and they signed off on a list of recommendations in May meant to guide bargaining discussions, the Times reported.

The task force suggested a “co-teaching model” for some schools, which means a general education teacher and special education instructor would teach together in the same classroom. This would mean disabled students no longer needed to be sectioned off in their own classrooms.

In addition, the task force suggested schools move away from ratio models that capped the number of students assigned to a single teacher. They instead suggested staffing decisions be determined by the specific needs of each child, as one disabled student could need more help than another.

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SEA members have taken issue with this proposal because it could mean they have to do more work. Carrie Syvertsen, a social worker at Robert Eagle Staff Middle School, raised those concerns at a rally on Tuesday.

“I’m really worried about staff retention and burnout,” Syvertsen said, according to the Times. “The district has not committed to making sure caseloads and workloads are manageable. It’s not sustainable.”

Meanwhile, others feel the teachers are being unfair to the students by holding their education hostage until they get their way. Manuela Slye represented the Seattle Council PTSA on the special education task force, and she said “adult issues are getting in the way of centering students.”

As teachers continue to demand more money and a lighter workload, SPS has pushed back against many of the demands. Until the two sides can come to an agreement, 50,000 students will continue to lose out on their education.

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Grant is a graduate of Virginia Tech with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He has five years of writing experience with various outlets and enjoys covering politics and sports.
Grant is a graduate of Virginia Tech with a bachelor's degree in journalism. He has five years of writing experience with various outlets and enjoys covering politics and sports.