Seattle teachers strike for better schools

Sept. 12 — Fed up with a hail of attacks on public schools, 5,000 Seattle teachers and staff workers went on strike on Sept. 9. The strike remains strong heading into its fourth day. It’s the first contract strike in 30 years for the Seattle Education Association. The school board had voted to seek an injunction against the strike, but the Seattle School District hasn’t acted on this so far.

Picket lines of dozens of teachers can be seen in neighborhoods all over the city at the more than 90 schools in the district. Outside West Seattle and Garfield high schools, the honks of passing vehicles seem to never stop. A teacher at Garfield, Jesse Hagopian, said the high school band had played for the teachers. A folk singer with other musicians played at the West Seattle picket line. “Strong support for SEA is coming in from across the country and the world,” reported Jonathan Knapp, SEA president.

Hagopian also reported that teachers had found out that district superintendent Larry Nyland was having a meeting at the Lincoln building. A group of teachers went there and picketed, and when Nyland was leaving they surrounded his car with a picket line.

The SEA says the school district seems to recognize only the wage demands, which the district basically opposes. The teachers also want more support staff hired, such as more psychologists and more secretaries. Those presently employed are overworked. They want race and equity teams in each building to deal with problems of disproportionate discipline actions and institutionalized racism. Teachers want the district to uncouple test scores from teacher evaluations. The teachers have forced the district to give students 30 minutes of recess when, before the strike, most poor and working-class schools gave only 15 minutes.

The district wants teachers to work 30 minutes longer each day. The SEA has forced the district to agree to compensation for this. The administration doesn’t want teachers and staff to have anything more than a paltry raise. The SEA wants a 10 percent increase over two years, which is a compromise over what they asked for originally.

The district seems to be following the lead of the state Legislature, which has disrespected the needs of teachers, students and communities to fund basic education in a state with the most regressive tax structure in the country. Due to the pressure of teachers and communities, the Legislature is now under a court order to provide more funds. But they haven’t released enough, so now the court is fining the Legislature $100,000 a day!

Support continues to grow. On Sept. 10, a meeting called by City Councilperson Kshama Sawant was held to discuss the strike issues, especially getting the strike more support. There were 200 people there, including many teachers. Holding a citywide rally to support the teachers was discussed. A report was given by a Denny Middle School teacher about a delegation of striking Pasco, Wash., school teachers who drove more than 200 miles to picket and meet with Seattle school teachers. The 1,100 Pasco teachers represent an oppressed city of mostly Latino/a and Black people.