Bellevue teachers back down on demands to not expand in-person learning until they are all vaccinated

Up until Sunday morning, the Bellevue Education Association seemed firm on their stance not to expand in-person learning, to stay remote until all educators are vaccinated.

But it suddenly changed and the stance dissolved.

By Monday night, it was announced that a new agreement was made, allowing the district to officially move on with its plans to bring back some of their youngest learners into the classroom.

"She really needs an in-person situation," Bellevue mom Stephanie Parkins said.

Parkins is passionate about getting her kindergarten daughter learning inside Puesta Del Sol Elementary.

Parkins, a mother of 2, said other kids may have adjusted to remote learning but her daughter is struggling.

Puesta Del Sol is an immersion school and the idea is to immerse kids in another language the entire time at school. With the pandemic, the model of immersion has become even more of a challenge for Parkins’ daughter.

"I’ve lost a lot of sleep," Parkins said.

The Bellevue mom along with thousands of other families have been watching the drama play out between the teacher’s union and the Bellevue School District.

"We felt that we were in the middle and the kids were caught in the crossfire, families didn’t have a voice," Parkins said.

When teachers refused to come back into the classroom for second graders returning last week, the district moved forward anyway with substitute teachers and certified administrators.

The district even filing a request for an injunction in court asking a judge to step in on the dispute. The district said teachers were breaking a memorandum of understanding, something the district said was a result of lengthy talks to bring kids back.

Superintendent Ivan Duran said under the circumstances he could not give in to the union’s request to wait until all educators are vaccinated with the pace of vaccine distribution unclear.

The district said they have been serving 800 students since September in person. Many of the children are in special education and Duran said there were zero transmission of the virus in their schools. Duran said the district has been working diligently to implement health and safety measures for kids and teachers.

While the two sides went back and forth, the uncertainty of it all had Parkins on the edge of her seat.

"I need to plan my life, my daughter is in childcare, God bless the childcare workers, they have been pivoting back and forth.

But it is the teachers pivoting back and forth that’s confusing to Parkins.  After all, it was the teachers themselves, not a judge, who ultimately backed off on their initial demands.

"We don’t get to see what happens behind closed doors," Parkins said.

But even for the head of the union on Tuesday it was hard to explain the flip flop.

"Best I can tell you today is there is still a lot to unpack," Bellevue Education Association President Allison Snow.

The bottom line teachers had conflicting opinions.

Snow admitting to Q13 News that she was not happy with the final vote.

"I am not happy with where we are I don’t believe it has to be this way," Snow said.

But enough teachers felt differently, giving a narrow approval to expand in-person learning with modifications.

Snow says modifications include accommodations for high-risk teachers and those living in intergenerational households. She also says teachers will be able to have a lot of local control on how things are run in the classrooms.

"There are 15 pages of agreement," Snow said.

Overall, the district got its way to expand in-person learning for kindergarteners, first graders, and second graders.

Kindergarteners come back starting February 11 and first graders start February 8.

Parkins said many parents were vocal over teachers only providing asynchronous lessons during the work stoppage. Amid the dispute, the union announced that teachers would not be doing any live remote instruction. 

Moving forward, Parkins said she feels more hopeful for her daughter and others who are struggling. 

"My hope is that everybody needs to think outside of the box for the kids who need to be back in the classroom," Parkins said.