Seattle school district and teachers union at odds about going back to school

As of Friday parents in the largest school district in Washington state are in limbo after being told by the district some of their kids can come back to the classroom next week, but the teacher’s union says teachers will not be there.

"I'm not really sure what this is going to look like," said Joy Springer, an occupational therapist in the Seattle Public Schools district.

Springer is one of many SPS educators who say come Monday, they’ll stick to their remote model, even though the district has asked for them to report to school to preschool and special education.

"We want to be back with our students and it’s so nice to be back with students but it needs to be done safely and equitably," said Springer.

The Seattle Teachers Union says they won’t go back until the district agrees to certain agreements in writing, which range from communication protocols around outbreaks to educator leave rules around quarantine and making sure families who want to stick with remote learning don’t get left behind.

"We should have access to masks and gloves…I’ll tell you right now we come in contact with body fluids a lot throughout our day," said Springer.

One of the things the district and union can’t seem to agree on: PPE. The district says they have PPE supplied for all staff. The union says the PPE is inadequate, and some teachers are still having to pay for their own cleaning supplies.

It’s just one of many issues teachers say are stopping them from coming back to class next week as scheduled.

"I really want the district to come back to the bargaining table because we have so many passionate educators who really put in so much time and effort into these proposals," said Springer.

Meanwhile, many parents are left wondering what will happen if the union and district don’t come to an agreement this weekend.

"My son needs to be in the classroom, remote learning is almost completely inaccessible to him," said Joelle Hammarstad who said her son is on the autism spectrum.

Hammarstad said if her son is able to return to school next week, as planned, it’ll be life-changing for the family.

"It has been such a hard year I cannot stress that enough," she said.

Hammarstad was relieved to hear that the district told us as of this evening, if teachers don’t return to school next week, they will still proceed with in-person learning and have "trained central office staff" fill in as educators. She said that’s of course not ideal, but if it means her son gets to be at school, she’ll take it.

"If the district and the union can't come together for the most needy children who are suffering the most who have not had access to a public education in a year, I’m concerned about September," said Hammarstad.

She said all parents in the SPS district should be concerned about their kids getting to go back with this much turmoil between them and teachers.

"It’s unfathomable to me, it feels like the brunt of this conflict between the district and the union is on the kids, take one for the team. Well you know my kid has been taking one for the team for a year I think my family is done taking one for the team, we're ready to get back into the classroom," said Hammarstad.

Seattle Public Schools says they’re going forward with plans for preschoolers and special education students to return to in-person learning on Thursday, with or without teachers. Meanwhile, the teachers union says they are holding out hope they can come to an agreement with the union so they’ll get to be there to welcome kids back.