Voices in Education: Tips for Surviving a Teachers’ Strike

Editor's Note: Kelly Munn is an Issaquah parent and long-time community activist. The views expressed here are strictly her own. South Kitsap teachers have voted to strike. Teachers in Snoqualmie Valley and Seattle School Districts have rejected their districts’ contract proposals and may strike if an agreement cannot be reached by September 4.

kelly-munnMy children were in elementary school when the Issaquah school district went on strike. It tore my community apart and it took us years to recover relationships, partly because we did not understand the normal course of a strike. We weren’t prepared for the misinformation or the fact that if we showed our teachers (whom we loved) support, we were actually making the strike last longer.

I’ve been watching every teacher’s strike that has gone on for the past 10 years, and I’ve figured out a few things that might help parents deal with the situation most effectively.

1. Don’t support one side over another.

For the most part, we know and like our teachers. For many of us, it’s instinctive to help the people that directly help our children.Don’t do it. It will prolong the strike. The more support one side gets, the more entrenched the strike will become and the longer the strike will last. The community needs to say “resolve the strike now, it’s not good for children” repeatedly, and to both sides.

2. WSPTSA believes in uninterrupted operation of schools.

If you are a PTA member, know that the Washington State PTSA (WSPTSA) has a clear position on strikes: they are not good for children.

3. If you distribute information, distribute information from both sides.

Remember that this is a strike and that the information will be biased on both sides. We in the community do not have a seat at the bargaining table and therefore we don’t really understand what is being negotiated. Both sides will spin the information to their advantage. We will never really understand what is being negotiated.

4. Don’t bring donuts to the picket lines.

The teachers will take such kindnesses as “support.” When one side feels supported, they are more likely to keep stuck on “their” position.

5. Class size will likely be an issue.

This is a much more complex issue than it first appears. It is not unusual for a teacher’s contract to include a “cap” for class size, and if the class size goes past the “cap,” then the teacher receives more money. Sometimes the contract will offer the option of an aide, if class size grows. We do not see fewer children in the class unless the school district makes a “set limit” to class sizes. There are a few school districts that do this, but most don’t.

6. Do not believe what you hear.

Although the press will say that the dispute is about “curriculum,” or it is about teachers being “valued,” this is rarely what is actually being negotiated. This is why it’s better for the community to consistently say: “Strikes hurt children.” We don’t really know what is going on at the negotiating table. There is a normal course for a strike to run through, which may include attacks on leaders.

7. Teachers will receive full salary even if they go on strike.

The school district is required by the state to teach your children for 180 days, unless they receive a waiver to shorten the school year, which is getting more difficult to receive. Your vacations will be shortened and/or school will go later into the summer if too much instructional time is lost during the strike.

Teachers will receive full salary even if they go on strike. Most parents and community members don't understand this. They think the teachers will not be paid. They will be. The teachers are basically using their vacation days in the strike. School districts can stop payment on health premiums, but I haven't seen anyone do it. However, South Kitsap’s school board has made that an option for the superintendent.

8. Help the school community to repair itself after the strike.

Thank the teachers for getting back to work. Thank the administrators for making a deal. Recruit people to go to Olympia to work on more funding for schools across the state. Work together with administrators, teachers and parents towards something positive.

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