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First day of school in Seattle delayed as educators go on strike

By Aya Elamroussi, Paradise Afshar and Dakin Andone, CNN

The first day for public schools students in Seattle is delayed after the teachers union became the latest in recent weeks to vote to go on strike, demanding more support for students with the greatest needs, workload balance and class size controls, along with better compensation.

The Seattle Education Association, which represents about 6,000 employees — including teachers and other school professionals — in Washington state’s largest public school district is set to begin its strike at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, the same day school was to start for Seattle Public Schools’ 50,000 students.

The union is working with the school district to reach a contract agreement that “brings us back to the classrooms as fast as possible,” it said in a statement. “Educators want to be in the classrooms with their students and need SPS to give those students the supports and adult attention they deserve.”

In its own message to parents Tuesday, the school district said it “respects our educators and staff,” adding, “We are optimistic the bargaining teams will come to a positive solution for students, staff, and families.”

“Negotiations with SEA are ongoing,” the message said. “We are looking forward to beginning school and welcoming students and staff for the 2022-23 school year.”

Seattle Public Schools is the latest district to see the start of its academic year thrown into uncertainty as teachers unions across the country have gone on strike to demand better conditions for educators and students.

That includes the Kent School District in a Seattle suburb, where the Kent Education Association has been on strike since last month, delaying the start of the school year. Also last month, teachers and staff in Columbus, Ohio, went on strike, forcing classes to be held online until a resolution was reached.

In Seattle, the union’s negotiating priorities include more support for students, including interpretation and translation services for those receiving multilingual education and improved special education staffing ratios.

The union also wants more support and controls to prevent educator burnout, like capping some class sizes and making sure each paraprofessional has a laptop. Finally, the union wants to increase wages, add incentive pay to attract substitutes and protect educators’ ability to take personal days.

“93% of us are working more than our assigned or contract hours, and 25% of us are working 10+ additional hours a week,” the union wrote 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 recognizing it with additional pay.”

The Seattle teachers union membership voted overwhelmingly in support of the strike, said its president, Jennifer Matter.

“We had a really difficult decision to make, and believe me, that decision was not taken lightly on whether or not we would authorize a strike,” Matter said. “Because no one wants to strike. It’s not something that people just choose but SPS has given us no choice because, again, we can’t go back to the way things have been we need to fight for something better.”

Following the union vote, Seattle Public Schools said in a statement it’s “committed to negotiating on a new contract with our educators.”

The union “did agree on Monday to meet with a mediator to help guide our conversations,” Beverly Redmond, the assistant superintendent of public affairs at the district, said in a statement.

In notifying families that schools would be closed Wednesday, the district noted meal sites will be open during the day and that it is working on child care resources.

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