Seattle teachers’ union votes not to return to class on Monday

Mar 4, 2021, 1:15 PM | Updated: 10:02 pm
child care, mask k-12...
First grade students load onto the bus after a day of classes at the Green Mountain School in Woodland, Washington. (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)
(Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

The teachers’ union in Seattle voted Wednesday night to not return to the classroom. It said it’s not confident in the district’s plan to keep educators safe from COVID-19.

Seattle teachers’ union files unfair labor practice complaints against district

The members of the Seattle Education Association voted to stay in the distance learning model. Members also cast a no confidence vote in Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau, who is outgoing.

“It is Superintendent Juneau’s inaction that has caused the district’s bargaining team to drag their feet and it is her responsibility that buildings are not following safety protocols,” said Jennifer Matter, president of the Seattle Education Association. “SPS needs to work with us, the frontline educators who see what happens in buildings every day, put into writing what readiness looks like rather than push our Educator’s expertise aside and put students at risk.”

The district said it will open classrooms, as planned, on Monday, March 8 with about 1100 students returning on Thursday, March 11.

On Sunday, Feb. 28, the union filed three unfair labor practice complaints against the school district for “shortcutting the bargaining agreement.”

The union said the school board voted last week to designate some special education and preschool teachers as essential workers to force them back to work before both sides were able to agree on proper safety protocols.

“Superintendent Juneau and Seattle Public Schools has shown a reckless and dangerous lack of transparency in readiness for students’ and staff’s health and well-being,” said Uti Hawkins, vice president of the Seattle Education Association. “They have lost our confidence in their ability to keep us safe and meet our students’ needs.”

The district says students and families are ready to return to school.

“From redesigned classrooms, to mask and health check-in requirements, we’ve put in place rigorous measures to protect students and staff,” the district said in a news release. “All our health and safety protocols are aligned to Washington State Department of Health, Public Health-Seattle & King County, Washington State Labor & Industries, and federal CDC guidelines.”

“We have seen other districts in our region return to in-person without incident. In our own school buildings, childcare providers have continued to operate since last spring, and we are already serving students in-person.”

Like many school districts in Washington state, most students and teachers in Seattle have been in a remote learning environment for nearly a full year.

State Superintendent: Consequences for not reopening ‘getting higher and higher’

Both state Superintendent Chris Reykdal and Gov. Jay Inslee have recently said it’s safe for students and educators to return to in-person instruction, even before staff has received the COVID-19 vaccine. However, it’s up to each district to decide its learning model.

On Tuesday, President Biden asked all states to prioritize teachers for the COVID-19 vaccine. Governor Jay Inslee almost immediately announced that educators, school staff, and licensed child care workers were added to the current vaccine tier in Washington.

Reykdal told KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show that’s good news.

“We have been asking for prioritization of educators through this. We were about three weeks away under the current phases, so this speeds things up. Educators can go quickly now.”

“The challenge is we didn’t get more vaccine,” he added. “And this adds about 200,000 more folks to the existing tier of eligible people in our state, in addition to those in the very first tier, as you recall, first responders, medical providers, anyone in that tier who hasn’t yet been vaccinated can still continue to do that. So it’s building a little bigger backlog until the J&J [vaccine] comes in and a couple of these other providers build more capacity.”

Washington received over 60,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week, but was notified by the federal government that it won’t receive additional doses until April, according to the state Department of Health. Supplies for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine remain low, and manufacturing is still ramping up across the country.

MyNorthwest COVID-19 updates

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Seattle teachers’ union votes not to return to class on Monday