The Seattle educators strike stretched to a third day Friday, and school officials said they would notify families over the weekend whether school would resume Monday.

“We are close on several proposals, and expect bargaining to continue throughout the weekend,” said Beverly Redmond, district spokesperson.

Both sides are scheduled to be back at the bargaining table Saturday at 9 a.m., Seattle Education Association leadership said.

Superintendent Brent Jones has said ideally school would start on Monday.

On Friday, more than a dozen students at Lincoln High School picketed alongside more than 30 educators, and took time to explain why they believed teachers need a better contract.

At one point during the last school year, Lincoln students said, they had to hunt down their school counselors in the hallway just to get a couple of minutes of their time.

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“There was a week where counselors were like, ‘If you need anything from us we cannot help you,’ because they were so busy helping out seniors with all of their college stuff and their courses,” said Aria Sanya, an incoming sophomore at Lincoln. “While it is understandable, it’s really sad to have to be like, ‘We cannot do this.’ It’s obviously not on them.”  

Union officials said they are calling for more mental health supports in schools, an ask that has dominated student-organized rallies all last school year. SEA officials also say the district isn’t budging on its proposal to budget time spent before and after school for social worker support for families.

SEA also proposed a tiered staffing system for social workers and school counselors based on school and community needs, but the district has not agreed, SEA officials said.

The union is also asking for smaller student-to-teacher ratios in the special education and multilingual programs, more pay and manageable caseloads.

Zoe Kanter, an incoming senior at Lincoln, said she believes teachers are doing work that goes beyond what they are paid. On top of easing the transition for students returning to in-person learning, she said, teachers have also stepped in as counselors and mental health specialists.

“I’ve definitely leaned on teachers in multiple ways,” Kanter said. “That’s a lot of stress to put on teachers when they’re under-resourced.”

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Kanter hesitated to use the term “under-resourced” to describe Lincoln High because it’s a north-end school with more privileges, and most of its students are white. “But even at Lincoln, we’re seeing cases where the counselors are completely overworked and just trying to get schedules right, but can’t even provide mental health supports.”

One of Kanter’s favorite teachers resigned last school year because of burnout, she said. Sanya also said some of the teachers she had last year have left. She found that discouraging because Lincoln is a newer school — it reopened in 2019 after a long closure — and doesn’t have traditions or a strong culture yet. 

“It’s hard to rely on anyone because it’s so disorganized,” Sanya said. 

Currently, Seattle Schools has one counselor for every 375 students. But at Lincoln High, each of the four counselors will have about 420 students for the upcoming school year, said Hope Donato, a Lincoln counselor. The union is fighting for one counselor for every 325 students, Donato said, a ratio still higher than what the American School Counselor Association suggests — one counselor for every 250 students. 

“That feeling of being able to get my job done, I haven’t felt that in a long time,” Donato said. “Something’s got to give. We’re hardworking people and go beyond our contract [hours] constantly. All of us are made to feel like crap because we can’t support kids in the way that they deserve.”

Last school year, Donato said, one of her colleagues had a caseload of about 450 students. And the only way her colleague could be compensated for the overtime was to file a grievance with the district, she said. 

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“At the end of the day, it never ends up being a truly fair process and you have to go through all of these loopholes to do anything about it,” Donato said. “When you’re a school counselor, you just focus on students so much that it’s hard to prioritize doing those things for yourself.”

The district is proposing a 6.5% pay increase to SEA members and substitutes, which includes a state-funded 5.5% cost-of-living increase, but Donato said that although educators should be paid more, it’s only one piece of the problem.

“I’ve seen so many educators cry over their paychecks,” she said. “If it was about money we would be back in the buildings now, but it’s not — it’s so much more than that.” 

Seattle is one of two King County school districts to go on strike this fall, and it is the only district still picketing. Kent School District educators, who went on strike Aug. 25, were able to resolve their contract after nine days, reaching an agreement with the district Sept. 7. Kent teachers went back to work Sept. 8. Neither side has been willing to share the tentative agreement, which will be up for a School Board vote Sept. 14.