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Highline school board votes to authorize possible legal action against its teachers union

Adrian Florez

In South King County, the Highline school board has voted to authorize possible legal action against its teachers union. It’s another example of escalating tensions around the region over the resumption of in-person instruction.

The board’s action came in the wake of a vote by the Highline Education Association. Union members rejected a tentative agreement to start bringing some students back to classrooms next week. The union voted to push that start date to April 19 instead.

Highline Board President Angelica Alvarez, along with three other board directors, voted to allow the district to take the union to court if they engage in a work stoppage. But she said she struggled over the decision.

“It’s been weighing really heavy in my heart, and I’ll be honest, I’ve been praying about it,” she said. “What do I do in a situation like this?”

One board director, Aaron Garcia, voted against the measure, saying he was concerned about the impact of such an action on “the system as a whole.”

Many educators have said they continue to have concerns about school districts’ preparedness to bring students and staff back to classrooms and keep them safe from coronavirus transmission. Now that Gov. Jay Inslee has made educators eligible to receive vaccinations, many families are hoping that schools will be able to expedite a shift back to face-to-face instruction. But some teachers have said they’re having difficulty getting appointments.

Highline Superintendent Susan Enfield (file photo)
Credit Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press file
The Associated Press file
Highline Superintendent Susan Enfield

Highline Superintendent Susan Enfield told the school board that the district will hold a one-day vaccination clinic on Sunday and will give priority to staff who will be providing in-person services to students. Enfield said she’s listening to families who are feeling “desperation” to get their children back to school buildings and educators who continue to have “very valid concerns and fears” about possible risks.

Balancing those interests is “an almost impossible task right now,” Enfield said.

Meanwhile, the district and the Highline Education Association continue to negotiate, said Washington Education Association spokesperson Julie Popper.

“They’re still at the bargaining table working collaboratively, making progress,” she said.

In Bellevue, the school district took itsteachers union to court in January, when members voted to continue remote instruction instead of reporting to school buildings. But the two sides then reached an agreement, and the district dropped the suit.

Earlier this week, the Seattle Education Association filed three unfair labor practice charges against the school district after the school board voted to deem some educators as essential and required them to return to classrooms next week. The teachers union said on Wednesday that its representative assembly took a vote of no confidence in Superintendent Denise Juneau and has voted to continue in remote instruction.

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.