The union representing the striking teachers accused the Kent School District (KSD) of “playing shell games” during negotiations to reach a new contract agreement.
The district announced Thursday, Sept. 1 that there would be no school on Friday, Sept. 2. It marks the seventh day of the strike that began on Aug. 25, the scheduled opening day of school. There is no school on Monday, Sept. 5 due to the Labor Day holiday.
“We appreciate your patience and understanding and look forward to welcoming our students and staff back to school as soon as possible,” according to the district statement.
In a Sept. 1 Kent Education Association (KEA, teachers’ union) strike newsletter provided to the Kent Reporter, the union had a bargaining update under a headline of “KSD playing shell games.”
The KEA bargaining team noted it received two proposals Tuesday, Aug. 30 from the district.
“It was more of the same, with no improvement in areas that would make a difference to students,” according to the newsletter statement. “Unfortunately, we haven’t seen significant movement from the district in 10 days.”
Union leaders said they hear the same proposals from the district.
“The district’s proposals took the same total amount of money and moved it from one place to another, without doing anything about students supports or removing the attacks on our rights,” according to the statement.
The district wants to remove from the contract a clause about nondiscrimination/affirmative action.
“This just says the employer will follow the law,” according to the union. “Why would they want to take this out of the contract?”
The union urged teachers to tell Superintendent Israel Vela to come to the table and engage meaningfully in the process.
Under another newsletter headline of “We will not be divided,” KEA Vice President Layla Jones issued the following statement:
“The KSD bargaining team is still not making the movement at the table that we hoped they would have by this point. They (KSD) are simultaneously sending out messaging that is contradictory to what we know to be the reality in our schools.
“This is a disappointing attempt to drive a wedge between us and the families we serve. KSD is trying to divide us, but the relationships on our lines and connections to our community are strong.
“We are standing up to hold the district accountable for providing the resources our students need now. We are standing up to give our bargaining team the support they need to get this done. Together, we hold the line.”
The union wants better pay but also more mental health support for students and smaller class sizes and caseloads.
The district has 42 schools and academies with about 24,000 students and 2,000 teachers. The district last had a teachers’ strike in 2009. Teachers were out and schools closed for about three weeks at the start of the school year.
Teacher’s release statements
The KEA posted quotes from teachers on its Facebook page about why they are on strike.
“After the pandemic and all the trauma our kids faced, we need mental health support for students,” said Kameron Kendig, a fourth-grade teacher at Sawyer Woods Elementary. “I’m not trained as a therapist or a counselor, and my kids need more support than I can give them.”
Another teacher disputed the school district’s statement about class sizes being small.
“I work at a school with a English Language Learner population, and the student-to-teacher ratio is not sustainable,” said Brett Allen, a ninth-grade teacher at Kent-Meridian High School.
The union noted it has received messages of support from Bellevue Education Association, Tumwater Education Association, North Thurston Education Association in Olympia and the Seattle-based MLK Labor union.
A community picnic hosted by the KEA is set for 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 2 at Service Club Community Park and Ballfields, 14608 SE 288th St., in Kent.
Hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, fruit and water will be provided.
Parents support teachers rally
A local group has organized a parent-led rally in support of teachers at 8 a.m. Friday, Sept. 2 at the school district offices, 12033 SE 256th St.
Participants are asked to wear red, bring signs and refreshments and to let their voices be heard.
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