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6,000 Seattle teachers and school staff remain on strike after failed weekend talks

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

This is now the fourth day of school students are missing in Seattle. The new academic year should have started last week, but more than 6,000 teachers and other school staffers are on strike. Reporter Lilly Anna Fowler from member station KNKX in Seattle has been covering the strike and its impacts. Hi there.

LILLY ANA FOWLER, BYLINE: Hi.

SUMMERS: So can you start by telling us what are teachers asking for in a new contract?

FOWLER: Sure. So I spoke to the Seattle Education Association today, the teachers union, and they say a few issues are holding up any kind of agreement. One is mental health support for students. So social workers, nurses, counselors - they want help at all levels - elementary, middle, high school. And they want mental health resources to go to the students who need it the most. So they say that's Black, POC students and low-income students. The union is also really emphasizing needing help for students whose first language isn't English - so help with translating in meetings or classes. Finally, they're wanting to raise wages for paraprofessionals, or teachers' aides, and office staff. Right now that scale starts at $19.22 an hour. The union says they've seen ads for work at fast food chains here for more than that. So it's a matter of paying the people who teach kids what they're worth.

SUMMERS: OK. So that's the teachers union. What are you hearing from the school district?

FOWLER: In their last proposal, Seattle Public Schools offered mental health support but only for high school students. That would not help elementary and middle school students struggle - who are struggling with depression, anxiety or other mental health problems early on. The teachers union says the district also hasn't committed to more language support - so translators for classes and meetings. The district is updating parents on a daily basis, but they're really not saying much beyond that they're making good progress on negotiations and that school will start as soon as an agreement is reached.

SUMMERS: This delay in classes starting has got to have been very disruptive for many families in Seattle. Are you hearing anything from parents about the strike and its impacts?

FOWLER: A lot of parents understand the teachers' positions, that they're really trying to get students what they need. They agree mental health and language translations are crucial. But they are frustrated that it's come down to a strike. Even under normal circumstances, canceling classes is hard on parents. That this strike is coming after a lot of pandemic disruption makes it all even more difficult. The city has stepped in and tried to help. So it's offering free programming for children at community centers and distributing meals to those who might not otherwise be able to afford breakfast and lunch. Some parents and children joined teachers in the picket line. Several parents have commented on social media that they're using the strike to teach their kids about labor negotiations. So it's a teachable moment.

SUMMERS: We've got about just 30 seconds left here. Where are negotiations heading now?

FOWLER: The Seattle Education Association says they've been bargaining 12 hours a day and that they've started exchanging proposals in July. So the district and teachers union failed to reach an agreement by Wednesday.

SUMMERS: OK.

FOWLER: There's going to be a rally at the school board meeting that day. And teachers and staff...

SUMMERS: OK.

FOWLER: ...Will try to pressure the board to push district negotiators to come to an agreement.

SUMMERS: That's Lilly Ana Fowler of member station KNKX in Seattle. Thank you.

FOWLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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