Columbus, Ohio, Teacher Strike: Why Teachers in Ohio’s Largest School District Voted to Strike

Columbus union members hit the picket line for a second day Tuesday as the standoff between the Columbus Education Association and the Columbus City Schools Board of Education continued.

The two sides are set to return to the negotiating table at 1 p.m. Wednesday afternoon on the first day of school after a federal mediator overseeing negotiations called on the union and Columbus City schools to meet, the union said on its Facebook page. The school district confirmed that the reunion will take place on Twitter.

“The Columbus Board of Education remains focused on getting our students and teachers back to the classroom. The federal mediator has called on both parties to resume negotiations on Wednesday, August 24. We will provide further updates as appropriate” , district Twitter account said.

The showdown is the latest in years of tension across the country between teachers who say they are underpaid and undervalued, especially after weathering the coronavirus pandemic, and school systems who say they are short of money.

In Columbus, teachers say they want guarantees of smaller class sizes, full-time art, music and physical education teachers in elementary schools and a cap on the number of class periods throughout. of the school day.

But at the heart of the strike is their complaint that too many schools, or parts of schools, lack heating and air conditioning, leaving students sweltering in the summer, shivering in the winter and distracted from learning.

’98 DEGREES IS A BOY BAND NOT A CLASS TEMPERATURE,’ reads the sign a teacher was holding outside East High School – a reference to a pop group that was briefly popular at the end of the 1990s.

The strike began on Monday after 94% of union members voted on Sunday night to reject the council’s latest offer. If a deal isn’t reached Tuesday night, Columbus City schools plan to start their year with a return to early pandemic practices, having students log in remotely for substitute-led classes. The district plans to distribute free lunches in take-out containers. Sports and other extracurricular activities will be postponed.

Union members have focused their protests on more than 20 schools where they would be visible from busy streets or intersections. Passers-by honked their horns in solidarity.

The union – with a membership of nearly 4,500 made up mostly of teachers, but also librarians, counsellors, nurses and other school employees – had appointed captains to organize each picket location. Members protested in rotation: morning groups starting at 7 a.m. and afternoon groups that would stay until 4:30 p.m.

Members and supporters delivered water coolers and bags of snacks to several locations for those who stood for hours on the sidewalks on a sunny day with temperatures in the 80s.

Why teachers seem more willing to strike

Outside East High School, a teacher was yelling classic rock protest songs from a loudspeaker.

The union had asked its members not to speak to journalists and to address their questions to their spokespersons. Instead, teachers pointed to non-union members who were free to speak.

“A lot of people in the suburbs don’t know how bad the conditions are, and I think they’re finally starting to see it,” said Maggy Counts, a former art teacher at East High School.

Counts, whose young twins will attend schools in the district, said a teachers’ strike “has been a long time coming.”

She said she had heard promises to improve buildings and install heating and air conditioning systems for years, but those improvements never fully materialized.

There remain the teachers – who also complain that their salaries are not keeping up with inflation and say they are in dire need of supplies – working in an environment that Counts describes as burdensome for both educators and students.

Teachers of Columbus' union members walk out of the convention center after voting to strike on August 21, 2022.

“They should be able to come to a safe place where there are no rats and cockroaches and hot conditions and little kindergartners in 58-degree weather,” Counts said.

“As an adult, if you go to work and it’s really cold or it’s 98 degrees or you’ve forgotten your lunch, you’re not going to be a productive employee. And school is the same,” she said. “We cannot let children continue to come into buildings and not have these basic needs, nor can we expect teachers to come to work in these conditions.”

Other protesters also said the board of education made years of vague promises to improve conditions in schools, but failed to provide enough specific details about their plans or timelines for completing those improvements.

Columbus City schools are using hundreds of millions of federal pandemic stimulus dollars to pay for HVAC systems at 16 schools. But six of the 13 schools that were originally supposed to be ready for the start of this school year do not yet have working air conditioning.

Heather Giles, a seventh-grade math teacher at Starling Elementary School, leads a chant as members of the Columbus Education Association picket Aug. 22, 2022.

“It’s 100% about the schools’ conditions,” said Lauren Chivington, a former Columbus City Schools teacher who is now an adjunct teacher and doctoral student and protested alongside union members at East High School on Tuesday. .

“They haven’t gone on strike since the 70s,” Chivington said of the union, which last went on strike in 1975.

While union members and their supporters have almost unanimously pointed to school conditions as the most important reason for the strike, the two sides are also at odds over wages: teachers had demanded annual salary increases of 8% , while the district’s most recent offer included 3% pay. bumps every year.

On Monday night, the Columbus City Schools Board of Education met behind closed doors as hundreds of teachers’ union members demonstrated outside.

Columbus City School Board President Jennifer Adair held a press conference.

“We want a contract, fair and equitable. Give our classrooms a central air,” they chanted.

Jennifer Adair, chair of the board of education, released a statement after the four-hour meeting, promising a way forward would come “soon”.

“We are working to find a way to work together. We don’t have any action on this yet. But we will – soon. Our board fully recognizes the disruptions and concerns felt by our children and families and across Columbus,” Adair said in the statement.

“To our school community, like you, we are saddened by this new school year,” she said. “Rest assured that we will support your children and families with the resources they need during this time of uncertainty.”

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