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Teachers union ‘disappointed’ that Kent School District blames it for reopening delay

Negotiations continue between district and Kent Education Association

A statement released by the Kent School District, which put fault on negotiations with the teachers union for a delay in a return to in-person learning, didn’t go over well with the Kent Education Association (KEA).

“I am disappointed that the KSD (Kent School District) statement put the decision to not reopen on labor negotiations,” said KEA President Christie Padilla in a Feb. 11 email to the Kent Reporter. “Currently, the district is negotiating with at least eight other labor groups besides KEA. When the district blames negotiations, most people will direct their frustration at the teachers’ union.

“This was also the case when KSD announced that our students would not be participating in sports. Both of these current announcements have caught me off guard because KEA had no idea that the district would reference the teachers union. Both of these decisions were made without KEA input, so KSD needs to own these decisions without hinting that it’s the teacher union’s fault. Statements like these do not build trust between KSD and KEA.”

The district released the following comment as part of its Feb. 11 statement.

“All Team KSD members remain committed to our shared goals for a safe return to in-person learning; however, based on where we stand today with our labor negotiations, we cannot predict the return date for in-person learning.”

The district has not released a date for a possible return to hybrid instruction, part-time in the classroom and part-time in remote learning. Students have been in remote learning since March due to COVID-19.

“Since October, we have had Inclusive Ed teachers willing to volunteer to go back to in-person learning for our most impacted students,” Padilla said. “We are waiting for KSD to put together a plan to make this happen.”

Padilla said 30% of teachers are willing to return to in-person learning with safety precautions in place at the schools.

“Just over 70% of the teaching staff is willing to go back to in-person once they have had both doses of the vaccine,” she said. “KEA is advocating for both parties to return to a building that is safe for staff and students to work in.”

KEA and KSD are negotiating work conditions every Tuesday,” Padilla said.

“The bargaining sessions have been collaborative,” she said. “So far, we have agreed on safety conditions, and what a hybrid schedule would look like when students return to in-person learning.”

As far as the neighboring districts of Federal Way, Auburn, Renton, Tahoma and Highline with return dates released for in-person learning, Padilla said those dates are in flux.

“I would argue that many surrounding districts have announced an opening date, but the date continues to get pushed back,” she said. “One thing to keep in mind about Kent is that we are fortunate enough to be a very diverse community. Several of our students live in multigenerational households. This puts some of our students and their families in a high-risk category. I do believe that there are positive intentions behind the noncommittal date for reopening.”

As far as when students might return to schools in Kent, Padilla didn’t put a date on it.

“I expect schools will open when vaccines are available,” she said.

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