Aberdeen teachers union files suit with school district for unfair labor practices surrounding reopening plan

The Aberdeen teachers union (AEA) announced Monday it is filing an unfair labor practices suit with the school district because the district has not reached a memorandum of understanding with the union regarding a hybrid on-site and remote learning plan.

Starting Monday, preschool and K-3 students entered the hybrid learning model, meaning both at-home and classroom instruction.

“Although we have been continually bargaining with the district we haven’t reached an agreement,” said AEA President Cathleen Wilder. “We are kind of concerned now, bringing kids back into the buildings and have not finished setting protocols, and the concern is that the district won’t follow through.”

Aberdeen School Superintendent Alicia Henderson said the district’s reopening plan follows “all current guidelines from the Department of Health, Labor and Industries.”

A statement from the district Friday read, in part, “Many of our plans and ideas on how to implement the in-person component come from research into best practices and what has been working in other districts. This adheres to guidance from Dr. John Bausher, our county public health official.”

A statement from the AEA Monday said, “Educators want to be in the classroom with students and are seeking an agreement with the district which outlines a consistent plan for safely reopening students.”

Henderson said the district has been working not just with the teachers union, but all the unions, to reach agreements, “and have been working diligently pretty much from the fall.”

She said the district met with the AEA Friday, “and we were hopeful to get an agreement, but they said they wanted to wait and meet later, so our next meeting is on Feb. 10. That was not our decision to postpone the meeting.”

The statement from the union said its priority is the protection of students, teachers, staff, and the community from the risk of the spread of COVID-19 in the classroom and beyond.

“It’s more global (the safety concern),” said Wilder. “We want to protect students, and also therefore protect their families. They seem to more carriers of this disease, so they might not get sick, but they could take it home to mom or dad or grandma.”

The AEA statement said, in part, “Weighing the health and safety of our community along with the benefits to our students is something we hoped to continue to discuss with the district. Unfortunately, the superintendent and other administrators chose to disregard our collective bargaining rights by making unilateral decisions without negotiating those decisions with the union.”

Wilder said the union had been working to provide input on the reopening schedule and was not happy with the district releasing the plan in a newsletter to the public Friday “even before it was released to the staff. That’s another concern, that we are not being included in some of that decision making and not even being alerted to some of these decisions until they go public.”

“That’s not something we negotiate, that is something the district (does), to develop the schedules,” said Henderson. “We certainly respect and honor at our meetings to bargain the impact of any changes in working conditions” with the union.

The in-person model released by the district Friday will be phased in for two-week increments. Grades 4-6 will begin a hybrid schedule on Feb. 18, then Grades 7-8 on March 1, and then Grades 9-12 on March 17. The school schedules are designed to include both in-person and distance learning, utilizing “concurrent instruction.”

Teacher leave is another concern for the union, said Wilder.

“We’ve been working through bargaining to make sure that we have procedures in place for those who need to take leave,” said Wilder, whether that be due to quarantining or isolation and also other reasons.

Henderson said Tuesday, “We are honoring all of the authorized leave for all of our employees.”

Wilder says teachers are looking forward to being back in their classrooms. They want to make sure all CDC and Labor and Industries guidelines are followed, including a consistent plan for sanitizing schools and providing everyone in the buildings appropriate personal protective equipment.”

“Any specific concerns about masks or (personal protective equipment) or ventilation” are welcome from the union, said Henderson. She said the district has “a very high standard” for the safety protocols put in place, “and there is a safety committee at every building to bring our attention to concerns that arise.”

How this could potentially impact the district’s reopening plan is not clear.

“It is not our intent to delay the start, but we want to make sure we protect our collective bargaining rights, not having them circumvented by not going through the (memorandum of understanding) process,” said Wilder.

Wilder said Monday, “There’s this impression teachers are trying to stop the school from starting, and that’s not what it’s about. Our teachers are happy to be with our kids and happy to move forward, but want to make sure we’re moving forward in a safe way.”

“Our community expects the reopening of the schools,” said Henderson. “Our employees are happy to be back with our students, and our children need this.”

Hoquiam School District

The Hoquiam School District is scheduled to open preschool, kindergarten and grades 2 and 4 hybrid learning Feb. 22. Grades 1, 3 and 5 are scheduled to follow March 1.

“Our plan was approved at our last school board meeting and was presented by our reopening committee,” said Superintendent Mike Villarreal. “Our (Hoquiam Teachers Association, the district’s union) president led the presentation.”

Villarreal said the district is in the middle of bargaining its own memorandum of understanding with the teachers union. “Most of the bargaining has been focused on safety protocols and assurances,” he said. A second meeting was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.