As Seattle schools change some reopening plans, parents wonder if latest promise will stick

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If Cherylynne Crowther had been asked to bet on whether the Seattle Public Schools would commit to having their son Max back in school on Thursday, she would have bet against it.

However, when she heard the news on Tuesday that in-person tuition for some students with disabilities would actually be pushed back by more than two weeks, it stung. The promise of return had really felt last week when she and Max, who are physically and mentally disabled, met a school bus driver who was testing the route from their home to Roosevelt High School.

Under the agreement, approximately 1,100 students enrolled in special education and preschool will return to class on March 29. The district has not announced any dates for other classes to return to school, including kindergarten teachers by first-grade students who are the target audience. The current reopening plan is under negotiation.

Although Max was initially sad that he wouldn’t see his friends, he took the change of plan well and said he was “excited” to start at a later date. His mother hopes the latest date given in a rare joint announcement between the school district and the union will be met. But she doesn’t have high expectations.

“They want to trust that they will deliver, and when that trust is betrayed it’s difficult,” said Crowther, his voice trembling. “It was like, ‘OK guys, you finally broke me.'”

As the school district and union negotiate a plan to expand face-to-face tuition, trust is waning for families who have been waiting months for face-to-face services for students with disabilities and who receive mixed news about start dates from the district. The target post for certain students with severe disabilities to return to class has been postponed three times from March 1 to March 11 to March 29.

The new start date comes after fierce opposition from the Seattle Education Association (SEA) to a district plan calling 700 educators back to teach in buildings this week before an agreement is reached on expanding face-to-face teaching. These educators were supposed to report to their buildings on Monday to prepare their classrooms for study, but a campaign by the SEA urged them to stay away.

This week union and district officials say they have turned a new page and are making progress in efforts to bring these students back. A security check of some district buildings by union and district officials, an independent heating, ventilation and air conditioning contractor, and the state Ministry of Labor and Industry did not reveal any major problems, according to a statement from the two parties.

“We had a breakthrough over the last negotiation weekend and some really honest discussions. We saw how close we are to some issues, ”said Jennifer Matter, President of SEA. “I think we realized in this conversation how much these debates put a strain on the school community.”

In the announcement, the district announced that it had lifted the order to send 700 educators back to the classroom. It is unclear how many turned up in their buildings this week. In return, the union withdrew three complaints of unfair labor practices that it had filed against the district.

Teachers have raised concerns about the lack of standard safety protocols in all schools that are open to a small group of students with disabilities. Some said they were hopeful of the news and shared concerns over mixed messages related to the reopening.

“I’m very excited about this announcement. It shows that the concerns are being taken seriously, ”said Michelle Vecchio, a special education teacher who is teaching children at Nova High School this year in person. “I can imagine that parents are very frustrated. I hope we can let you know what is actually being negotiated. ”

Chandra Hampson, president of the Seattle School Board, said she understood parents’ frustration with the changing dates. She said the district reopening plans were approved on the assumption that they would allow time for an agreement with the union.

“It’s not just wishful thinking, it sets expectations,” Hampson said. “While we need to apologize and know how harmful it can feel, we need to balance that with the benefit to children of actually returning to a better, more coherent and cooperative place. We will be calling directly to families who are in deep suffering. ”