March 8, 2021
To: Board of Directors of Seattle Public Schools
CC: Superintendent Denise Juneau
Seattle City Council
Seattle Education Association
Dear School Board,
As a rank and file member of American Federation of Teachers 1789, a socialist and a City Councilmember, I am writing in solidarity with the Seattle Education Association (SEA), and to express my outrage at Seattle Public Schools’ blatant disregard for safety and the collective bargaining rights of educators. Superintendent Juneau’s unilateral decision to reopen certain in-person classrooms just weeks before educators are vaccinated shows callous disregard for the lives of educators, students, and their families, and is an attempt to strong arm the union. Seattle Public Schools (SPS) must respect the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) you signed with school unions, committing to a safe reopening of in-person classrooms to be bargained with educators. I fully support the decision of the SEA to refuse to accept SPS’s dictate.
They report that 99% of their elected Representative Assembly voted to refuse to go along with SPS’s plan to forcibly expand the
number of educators in the classroom by March 11 under unsafe conditions. The union also voted overwhelmingly to declare No Confidence in Juneau’s leadership. When educators speak with a nearly unanimous voice, the Seattle School Board has a duty to respect the expertise of the teachers, nurses, paraprofessionals, and other school workers.
Nobody wants school buildings to remain closed one day longer than is necessary. This past year has been a trial for the school community. Families have struggled to make child care arrangements, vulnerable students without reliable internet access have fallen further behind, and educators have struggled to find ways to support students remotely. However, the return to in-person learning must be done safely, and that means respecting the expertise of the people who work in our schools every day to educate students. There must be adequate heating and ventilation in all buildings, sufficient PPE to keep all staff safe, and vaccines available for all educators and at-risk community members.
Will Superintendent Juneau spend her days in the classrooms she is unilaterally ready to open? It is galling that Seattle Public Schools’ executive leadership thinks they can and should make these decisions without involving school workers and the community. Ultimately, the Seattle School Board is the elected leadership responsible for ensuring that the district
returns to the bargaining table with the SEA. You hire and fire the Superintendent and are responsible for resolving the union’s vote of No Confidence.
The Seattle School Board is independently elected, and you have no excuse for refusing to negotiate with the union. Unilaterally forcing educators and students back into the classroom, without allowing educators and parents to have a say in the decision and putting those who are most vulnerable
especially at risk of catching and spreading COVID, is not how to support working families and our school communities.
I urge you to return to the negotiating table with SEA. Cancel all unilateral decisions and discuss with SEA leadership a resolution to the No Confidence educators have in the school administration. In cities across the country, educators and community members are fighting a battle for safe reopening
of schools. As an elected representative of Seattle’s working people, I intend to stand in solidarity with the SEA, working-class parents, and community members, as they fight for safety in Seattle’s public schools.
Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant (District 3)