Columbus Prepares for What Could Be First Teachers’ Strike of the School Year

Students could return to remote instruction if the negotiations don’t yield results by August 22.

AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, file
Parents protest a teacher strike in Sacramento, California, in March. AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, file

As families across the country prepare for the first day of school, parents and their children at Columbus, Ohio, are preparing for what could be the nation’s first teachers’ strike of the school year.

School is slated to begin there in less than two weeks, and the city is scrambling to guarantee that classes will start as planned — after the teachers’ union doubled down on its threat to strike following months of contract negotiation.

The teachers’ union, Columbus Education Association, filed a notice of intent to strike on August 21 if an agreement is not reached. The move ratchets up the pressure on the city’s school board, which has been trying to negotiate a new contract with the union since March.

The president of Columbus’s school board, Jennifer Adair, said she was “deeply troubled” by the “premature” decision to strike. In a statement, she said that the union had not responded to the latest proposal sent by the board — and instead announced the strike. 

The teachers’ union is demanding higher salaries, smaller class sizes, and fewer class periods throughout the day. It is also requesting the creation of full-time positions for art, music, and gym teachers in elementary schools, as well as expanded social emotional learning programming.

Ms. Adair defended the school board’s offer, which includes a 3 percent raise for teachers over the next nine years, offers new bonuses, and creates professional development opportunities. The union alleges that the school board did not respond to its counterproposal.

Columbus Education Association, Ms. Adair said in her statement, has negotiated with a “lack of good faith efforts.” In a statement, the union said it would “continue that fight until a fair agreement is reached.” 

 “Our educators, students and the entire community deserve a fair contract for CEA,” the organization’s spokeswoman, Regina Fuentes, said. 

One sticking point in negotiations was that the contract did not guarantee air conditioning or heating in schools. The school board, however, says it voted to upgrade the HVAC systems in schools — in a decision external to the labor contract.

Meanwhile, students could see a return to remote learning after pandemic recovery if the strike occurs. The school board announced this week that it is “fully prepared to provide students with an education through synchronous and asynchronous remote learning.” The city would tap into its substitute teachers and even administrators to guarantee instruction.

Columbus, like all school districts, is working to close the academic achievement gap caused by remote instruction in the pandemic’s initial stages.

Correction: August 21 is the deadline for the negotiations, and teachers would receive a 3 percent raise over nine years in the school district’s latest offer letter. An earlier version of the article misstated the deadline and conditions.

The New York Sun

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