FILE — Seattle Teachers Strike

Students at walk to their classrooms on the first day of school at Concord International School, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015, in Seattle.

(The Center Square) – Teachers at Seattle Public Schools allege the district violated their collective bargaining rights in its ongoing efforts to resume in-person learning at Seattle classrooms.

Over the weekend, union members with the Seattle Education Association filed three complaints with the Washington Public Employment Relations Commission. They allege Seattle Public Schools infringed on teachers, paraeducators, and school building office staffers' rights to negotiate working conditions and broke two state statutes.

Jennifer Matter, Seattle Education Association (SEA), said in a statement that the union's complaints were representative of the district's "irresponsible" reopening plan since two new strains of COVID-19 have made landfall in the state.

“SEA’s bargaining is critical to make sure all possible protections are in place to keep our students and educators safe,” Matter said. “Putting additional students, some of them medically fragile, in classrooms when the district isn’t even providing adequate protection for those few students and staff in-person now, is risky, irresponsible, and reckless.”

While weekly case rates in Washington state have fallen below 1,000 for the first time since last summer, the two-shot COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are not approved for children younger than 16.

A one-shot vaccine from Johnson & Johnson was approved on Friday for adults 18 and older and is estimated to be 66% effective at preventing mild to moderate COVID symptoms and 86% effective at severe symptoms and death. 

Recent CDC guidance early in the year has advised teachers resume in-person learning regardless of vaccination rates among education staff. 

In its defense, Seattle Public Schools officials argued its decision to reopen in was made "with the express purpose of taking the necessary steps to bring back students with the highest needs" such as preschoolers and special education students. 

On Feb. 25, the district passed a resolution deeming preschool, special eduction, social and emotional learning, and medically fragile support services as essential.

Under the "Memorandum of Understanding" (MOU) between SEA and the district passed in August, the superintendent wields the authority to define what district services are essential and mandate the staff providing them to report to work.

In a statement, Seattle Public Schools officials expressed confidence that SEA's labor complaints would be dismissed. 

"SPS will continue to bargain in good faith with SEA as we seek to arrive at a new MOU focused on the phased-in return to in-person instruction for all our students," the district's statement read.

The news may further delay ongoing negotiations between the district and SEA which saw a state mediator step in at the request of the district last week.

Staff Reporter

Tim Gruver is a politics and public policy reporter. He is a University of Washington alum and the recipient of the 2017 Pioneer News Award for Reporting. His work has appeared in Politico, the Kitsap Daily News, and the Northwest Asian Weekly.