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Seattle, Highline make progress in bringing some students back to classrooms

Seattle Public Schools Instagram

It’s been a contentious couple of weeks, but the Seattle and Highline school districts have made progress toward bringing some students back to classrooms.

Seattle Public Schools and the Seattle Education Association said in a statement that they’re close to reaching a tentative agreement for offering in-person instruction to preschool students and some students with disabilities. But the union and the district said that start date has been pushed to March 29.

That’s almost a month later than the district originally wanted, and there’s still no date set for in-person learning for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Seattle district leaders said they’re rescinding an order to deem some staff members as essential and require them to report in person before reaching an agreement with the union. That move prompted a lot of anger among educators. The union called it an “end-run around bargaining,” and the union’s Representative Assembly took a vote of no confidence in Superintendent Denise Juneau.

Gov. Jay Inslee designated K-12 educators as eligible for the coronavirus vaccine last week, after President Joe Biden urged states to do so as a way to resume more in-person learning. Teachers have been getting their first round of vaccinations, and that has helped to ease some concerns about teaching face-to-face.

South of Seattle, some students with disabilities and children in pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first grade will head to classrooms this Thursday in the Highline school district.

The Highline Education Association has ratified an agreement with the district. In recent days, the Highline school board had threatened legal action after the union rejected a previous in-person learning plan.

“I regret that negotiating hybrid learning became so contentious over the past two weeks,” Highline Superintendent Susan Enfield said in a statement. “Negotiating with HEA is never about standing with or against our teachers, but about collaborating to balance the interests of all the individuals involved, with all their very real individual needs and perspectives. This is not easy in the best of circumstances, but it was extraordinarily difficult given the challenges of the pandemic.”

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.