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Kent teachers on strike, delaying first day of school

Updated: September 7, 2022 at 4:21 PM PDT
The teachers union said Wednesday, Sept. 7, it had reached a tentative agreement with the district to end a strike that had delayed the start of school since Aug. 25.

The start of the school season isn’t going smoothly everywhere, including in Kent, where hundreds of teachers are on strike.

The school year was supposed to start Thursday. But on what was supposed to be the first day of school, hundreds of teachers and other school staff marched up and down sidewalks, holding signs that read “ON STRIKE” and “ATTRACT & KEEP GREAT TEACHERS,” including at Kent Meridian High School.

Ruth Smith is a science teacher at the high school. She said she's been teaching for the district for about six years. She said teachers have been negotiating their contract since July but have been unable to come to an agreement with the district.

Smith said there’s lots of reasons behind the strike including the lack of AC in classrooms, unmanageable class sizes and pay. Smith said the district is losing teachers to other districts that are willing to pay more, leading to dozens of vacancies.

"The biggest thing is that we want to be in there with students right now, but we also want working conditions that's both optimal for teachers and optimal for students, because students cannot learn well in bad conditions," Smith said.

In a statement, the district said it was committed to recruiting and retaining a workforce that best prepares students for success. It said negotiations with the union continue and the district is committed to starting school as soon as possible.

The district said high school sports will continue, but meal service will not start up until school does.

Meanwhile in Thurston County, hundreds of teachers picketed over some of the same issues, such as workloads and lack of pay. Teachers there could authorize a strike in the coming weeks if an agreement isn’t reached. Teachers in Columbus, Ohio ended their almost week-long strike on Thursday.

Kent is about 20 miles south of Seattle. The district has about 24,000 students.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Lilly Ana Fowler reports on social justice issues for KNKX. She previously worked for the nonprofit news site Crosscut — a partner of KCTS 9, Seattle’s PBS station.
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