After months of negotiations, the union, which represents 7,000 Seattle Public Schools employees, ratified an agreement to return elementary school students to the classroom for face-to-face lessons on April 5th.
The agreement officially provides for a return to school buildings for the district, which will be among the last in the nation to bring students back to classrooms on a larger scale. This week, the union representing the district’s school workers, the Seattle Education Association, voted to ratify the treaty – – 82% of the members agree – – Make the deal official for students enrolled in preschool through fifth grade.
“We listened to our community and brought concerns we heard from them to the negotiating table,” said SEA President Jennifer Matter in a statement Friday morning. “We are grateful for the collaboration of our community members and for the dedication of our negotiating team to achieve this.”
Parents of about 58% of SPS students said in a district-wide survey this week that they plan to bring their children back to school for hybrid classes, a district spokesman said. The district received responses from 14,272 families of its currently 24,648 enrolled students.
Under the agreement, elementary school students and students with disabilities would return to buildings on April 5 – Governor Jay Inslee’s deadline for districts to offer young students face-to-face tuition. Some elementary school students who received special education returned on March 29th. The students attended schools four days a week on half-day schedules for just under three hours, with some visiting in the morning and others in the afternoon.
It also includes a commitment to keep as many students as possible with their current class teacher and maintain a physical distance of 6 feet. The agreement was negotiated ahead of Governor Jay Inslee’s announcement on Thursday that reduced the distancing requirement from 6 feet to 3 feet.
Expanded vacation and housing options for educators, as well as multiple levels of safety protocols, are also included in the agreement. Under the agreement, the district must maintain employee and student PSAs for at least 30 days. Employees who have not yet been fully vaccinated can request remote work until they are able to do so. The district cannot force union members to vaccinate. Educators who lose access to childcare or whose childcare provider does not offer personal services during the pandemic can request remote work as accommodation.
Other complications remain: The district announced last week that due to a shortage of school bus drivers at its prime contractor, First Student, it could not guarantee yellow bus transport for all families who request it. On Wednesday, the school board approved a measure to change the start times of the elementary school so that bus drivers can drive more than one route in the morning and afternoon. However, it is unclear how many more students will be eligible.
“We understand that no deal is perfect and no deal will address or resolve the historical problems and inequalities we face in our schools,” SEA Vice President Uti Hawkins said in the statement. “Negotiating and ratifying a TA [tentative agreement] is only part of our larger organizational effort to fight for the schools we all deserve. ”
The district and union are still negotiating returns for middle and high school students. According to the statement, her focus is on creating a model that “minimizes the interruption of timetables, is sustainable, meets the social-emotional and academic needs of all students (personal and remote), takes into account the fairness of the centers and also meets the requirements to the governor’s proclamation to return to the classroom. “
Inslee’s deadline for schools to offer in-person learning to secondary students is April 19th.