In-person school for young Seattle kids won’t begin until ‘at least’ March 8, district says

Dahlia Bazzaz

Seattle Times reporter

Seattle Public Schools, still in negotiations with their teachers’ union, announced Monday that face-to-face tuition for preschoolers by first graders and some students with disabilities will not begin “at least” March 8th. This is a week after the March 1 start date originally announced by the district, the largest in Washington state.

It’s unclear how realistic the new timeline will be. The Seattle Education Association (SEA) union, which represents 6,000 school employees in the district, including teachers, said from the start of negotiations that the district’s scheduled reopening date was not guaranteed. In a statement Monday, SEA said the district has not yet addressed concerns from educators currently working in person, saying that the district does not have enough personal protective equipment (PPE) in place and has not followed safety protocols.

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“We understand the desire to get students back into personal learning. Many of us are parents of SPS students too, and as educators we miss seeing our students personally,” the statement said. “The negotiating team at SEA is working tirelessly to reach an agreement with SPS as soon as possible. However, we are not prepared to put in place security measures to meet arbitrary deadlines.”

“We know that such changes are difficult for families and students. We aim to keep you updated as new information becomes available, ”the district said.

Seattle Public Schools officials tried to speed up the process by bringing a mediator into the discussion. But the union representatives say they are “making progress” and see no need to bring a mediator to the table.

The district reopening plan would bring Pre-K back in person through first grade students two days a week and students with disabilities four days a week. There would be 15 or fewer students per classroom.

The union asked for a specific language for security measures. It wants contact tracking and flexible work accommodation, e.g. B. a remote working option for unvaccinated teachers and access to weekly rapid tests for the virus.

A January poll of around half of SEA members found that 62% would not be willing to return to class until “educators have the opportunity to be fully vaccinated”. Thirty-seven percent of those polled don’t believe there should be a return to face-to-face classes this spring, regardless of vaccine.

The district is among the last school districts in the state and country to reopen to a wider group of students. According to a state survey, the district personally attended 144 students for the week of February 8, the latest data available. The Bellevue School District, which recently opened its doors to young elementary school students after a public battle with its teachers union, served more than 14 times that number. The Kennewick School District in southeast Washington served more than 16,000.