After spending all night Tuesday in negotiations, teachers in Seattle went on strike Wednesday, forcing the state’s largest school system to cancel classes on what would have been the opening day of the new school year.
Until teachers approve a contract deal, teachers, paraprofessionals, and certified teaching staff will continue to picket outside of their schools from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily, according to WEA.
Since many months ago, teachers and the district have been in contract negotiations, with the leadership’s major concerns being salary raises, assistance for special education, and multilingual kids. At the beginning of the academic year, Seattle joined Kent as the only other significant school system in Washington that was on strike.
The Kent Education Association approved a contract late on Wednesday, ending more than a week of missing classes among the district’s 25,000 student population.
The Seattle Education Association said on Tuesday that 95% of its members who voted over the weekend were in favor of a strike, which was supported by a large majority of the public. Approximately 6,000 SEA members cast ballots, according to SEA President Jennifer Matter.
As the district strives to provide more services in general education classrooms, SEA has made certain demands, such as maintaining staff ratios for disabled and multilingual students, as well as requiring the district to provide them with interpretation and translation services in parent-teacher conferences and on official documents.
The base hourly wage for a paraeducator in Seattle is $19.22. For the same tasks, neighboring districts pay a greater base hourly rate.
Paraeducators in the Northshore School District are paid a minimum of $27.09 per hour. At Bellevue School District, Lake Washington School District, and Highline Public Schools, they are paid a minimum of $22.54, $20.23, and $22.16 per hour, respectively.
There are many unfilled special education positions at Cleveland, according to Jenn Kekuna, an academic intervention specialist there. The children in special education are frequently the least well-served in schools, according to her.
She remarked, “Teachers don’t merely act as content servers. “Half the time, we act as substitute parents or counselors.”
Teachers are requesting more student support because it takes time away from teaching children when they must leave the classroom to address a problem.
Isaura Jiminez Guerra, an ethnic studies teacher at Cleveland High, gathered outside the building on Wednesday morning with around 50 other teachers. Guerra claimed that the reason they are on strike is that paraeducators and instructional assistants get unsustainable hourly wages of as little as $20. The district’s ideas, according to Jiminez Guerra, have been unclear, and teachers are looking for specifics in the contract, such as lower teacher-to-student ratios in special education and bilingual courses.
According to Otis Golden III, an instructional assistant in the special education department at Rainier Beach High School, paying paraeducators more will boost retention and draw more individuals into the profession. Additionally, it will prevent them from leaving the field or going to another neighborhood. Some fast-food places, he said, pay between $20 and $25 for every order.
“To be an educator, it requires a particular person,” Golden added. “We want to attempt to draw those individuals. We want to make sure those folks can stay.”
Parents shared their worries about obtaining child care on social media. Others expressed their frustration with the “short-notice” discussions.