School and union leaders in 10 King and Snohomish county districts remain at loggerheads over welcoming students back into classrooms, even for part of the week. Their standoffs over details apparently are so important, they are willing to put off accessing millions of dollars in second-round federal pandemic relief.
When encouragement was insufficient and cajoling ineffective, state Superintendent of Public Schools Chris Reykdal lowered the boom, announcing he would hold back the payments this month if districts did not reach agreements to reopen K-12 classrooms.
From the sprawling Seattle school district to tiny Tukwila, these 10 districts have made plans to offer hybrid instruction, but as of Thursday, labor unions hadn’t reached agreement to staff all the buildings. That means no round two reimbursements to help students catch up with lessons or improve facilities. Not for new tech or sanitation. Not this month, and not until districts and union negotiators agree on terms.
This is not small change, but millions in much-needed funding, with allocations ranging upward from more than $1.7 million for Monroe School District to nearly $37.3 million in Seattle. But even more important than money, students’ education and well-being hang in the balance. Parents and other stakeholders should tell these districts to get it done.
Specifically, they should call out local teachers’ unions that have refused to accept science-based safety guidelines or public-health experts’ assurances that small-group classroom instruction is not only safe, it’s in students’ best interests.
While schools across the state are safely teaching small cohorts of students in socially distanced classrooms, most of these 10 Puget Sound-area districts — which collectively educate more than 216,000 students — still are phasing in hybrid elementary education models for lower grades, according to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. The Seattle school board and the Seattle Education Association have only recently reached a tentative agreement to bring elementary school students and some K-12 special education students back to school buildings beginning next week.
“For nearly all of them, the issue is a lack of certainty at this time around opening for middle and/or high school,” OSPI spokeswoman Katy Payne said in an email. She added, they’re “working hard, they have made progress, and most of them are very close.”
But so is the governor’s deadline, which requires districts to offer elementary students the option of at least 30% in-person instructional time by April 5 and to all K-12 students by April 19. Families will still be able to choose remote instruction under the governor’s order.
District spokespeople say they expect to meet those deadlines, but it shouldn’t have to come down to the wire. Students and families in these districts deserve certainty and the chance to return to classrooms.