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Educators' union says Seattle district's process for choosing a reopening plan has been rushed

Seattle Superintendent Denise Juneau (right) announced on March 11th that schools would close due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A very unusual school year is coming to a close and now the focus is shifting to what school will look like in the fall, given the pandemic. The Seattle school district is planning to let families know by the end of this week what the model will likely be.

But the Seattle Education Association, the union representing educators, has criticized the district’s process of gathering input on possible options. The three models the district has been considering include having students from pre-kindergarten through fifth grade attend in person, with older students doing a mix of in-person and remote learning; all students doing a mix of in-person and remote learning; and all students doing 100 percent remote learning.

The district created engagement teams that included teachers, parents, students, members of community organizations and district staff. Jennifer Matter is the incoming president of the Seattle Education Association.

“With this kind of complex issue, we wanted to be at the table with these families and community-based organizations and students,” Matter said. “We saw it as a listening and being able to have that dialogue – meaningful dialogue – but we didn’t feel like we even got to have that meaningful dialogue.”

Matter said the groups met for six days and it wasn’t enough time. She said it felt scripted and controlled, with little opportunity to ask questions.

Seattle Superintendent Denise Juneau said she was surprised by the Seattle Education Association’s response because union members had been “engaged with these teams throughout the whole process.” She said the teams met for a total of more than 20 hours and provided important input to help select the best model.

She said it’s important to decide on a model quickly because there’s so much planning that has to be done, both by families and by district staff as they work on such things as reconfiguring classrooms to maintain physical distancing to limit the risk of spreading the virus.

“Our community and our families deserve to know, and we have an obligation to them to provide some predictability around the fall,” Juneau said.

Juneau said school in the fall will likely involve a mix of in-person and remote learning with an option for 100 percent remote learning. And she said district leaders will begin bargaining next week with the Seattle Education Association about working conditions for the coming school year.

State Superintendent Chris Reykdal said recently, as he issued guidance to school districts on how to reopen in the fall, that most schools should be able to resume in-person instruction with different configurations in classrooms, face coverings, increased cleaning, changes to transportation and other adaptations to follow public health requirements.

However, Juneau said that the Seattle school district will not be able to resume “normal” school with all students back in classrooms at the same time until King County moves into Phase 4 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start Washington plan. Right now, the county is in the process of asking for permission to move to Phase 2.

“If we’re in Phase 4, it would be awesome because we could be back full time,” Juneau said. “I think that’s the preference of everybody that’s involved. If we are not in Phase 4 yet, per the governor and Department of Health advice, there has to be something in place.”

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.