Seattle Education Association (SEA) union leaders voted Wednesday to continue teaching remotely, a show of opposition to the school district’s move to summon 700 Seattle Public Schools (SPS) educators back to their school buildings on Monday. The two sides have not yet reached an agreement to expand in-person learning.
On Wednesday, a group of around 250 educators who represent the union’s 6,000 members voted to keep teaching under the district’s current instructional model, where only a small number of students and staff are teaching in-person. The group also took a vote of “no confidence” in Superintendent Denise Juneau. Juneau announced in December that she would resign at the end of June.
It’s unclear how many educators or students will return next week. Julie Popper, a spokesperson for the statewide teachers union, the Washington Education Association (WEA), said, “Educators can choose to go in but we expect it will be minimal if at all.” Early estimates from the district put the number at 1,100 preschool and students with disabilities who would return, but aspokesperson said that number could change.
Asked via email if there is an alternative plan should educators not appear, Tim Robinson, a district spokesperson, said, “It is too early to address that type of ‘what if’ question.”
Amid escalating tensions between management and labor over a reopening plan, the district announced late last month that it would begin serving certain students receiving special-education services, as well as preschoolers, starting next Thursday.
The district exercised a clause in its most recent agreement with the union to mark certain educators as “essential” in order to bring them back in-person before bargaining concluded. Those educators are expected to show up to their schools next Monday.
The union has also filed three unfair labor-practice complaints against the district for the move.
“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, the union’s president in a statement. “SPS needs to work with us, the front-line 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.”
Union leaders say the district hasn’t addressed all the issues brought up in bargaining, including the safety concerns of those already working in school buildings. In a statement, district said its buildings are ready.
“From redesigned classrooms, to mask and health check-in requirements, we’ve put in place rigorous measures to protect students and staff,” the statement said. “We need to get these students back to in-person school so they can receive the essential mental-health services, social, emotional and academic supports they urgently need.”