Columbus teachers’ union and school board reach ‘conceptual agreement’, ending strike
By Eric Bradner and Chris Boyette, CNN
The Columbus, Ohio, teachers’ union and the Columbus Board of Education have reached a “conceptual agreement,” ending a strike and allowing students to return to class next week, the school district announced early Thursday morning.
The Columbus Education Association confirmed the agreement on Twitterclaiming that the “overall conceptual agreement” was reached at 2:38 a.m.
School board president Jennifer Adair said the district looks forward to welcoming students, teachers and staff back to school on Monday.
“While details cannot yet be released, the contract recognizes the board’s commitment to improving our student outcomes, the essential work of (Columbus Education Association) members, and strengthening our learning environments,” said Adair in a statement.
The first day of the new school year for Columbus City Schools, Wednesday, was held online and classes will remain online for the rest of the week, allowing teachers to use Thursday and Friday for scheduling, Adair explained.
Regina Fuentes, spokeswoman for the Columbus Education Association, described the deal as a “good deal” and “a win”. She said details will not be released until all union members have reviewed and voted to ratify the concept agreement, which will take place over the weekend. Once both parties agree to the deal, classrooms can officially reopen.
“Let the history books reflect that this strike was about students who deserved to commit to modern schools with heating and air conditioning, smaller class sizes and a well-rounded curriculum including art, music and physical education “, Fuentes said in a press conference.
CNN has contacted the Columbus Board of Education for more details on the deal.
The two sides had met on Wednesday afternoon as they remained at odds over a new contract for teachers and school workers.
Teachers were demanding 8% pay rises, along with commitments to improve heating and air conditioning in dilapidated buildings, smaller classrooms and more. The district had offered 3% wage increases and was reluctant to include language about school improvements in its contract with the union.
The school district relied on substitutes to lead virtual classes Wednesday, when about 4,500 teachers, librarians, counselors and other school workers went on strike.
Before the agreement was reached, some students gathered at the Barnett Community Center, one of nine places the Columbus Department of Recreation and Parks has designated as support centers for students to complete their work online. . Three students said they hoped the return to the first pandemic-era virtual classrooms would be short-lived.
“We are a team school. We don’t want to go back to virtual,” said Coreaa Taylor, who is starting ninth grade at Walnut Ridge High School.
“It’s boring,” said Jamaal Reed, who is starting 8th grade at Sherwood Middle School, of virtual learning. “We want to see our friends. We always want to do things at school. It’s like a bond with friends that you only see if you’re in school.
“I really don’t want to be virtual,” said Linwood Allison, who is starting 12th grade at Walnut Ridge.
“When you’re at home, you’re not going to have the same ambition. At home you want to be lazy,” Allison said. “Some people feel motivated by their classmates, or their teacher can help them a lot.”
However, despite disliking remote learning, all three said striking teachers made good points about overcrowded classrooms and heating and air conditioning issues.
At Walnut Ridge High School, where Columbus City Schools completed HVAC work in 2018, classrooms remain unreasonably hot, Allison said.
“These are saunas,” he says. “Ridge needs a lot of work – like, a lot of work.”
Jazmyne Collins, a construction worker who was picking up a Chromebook for her 9-year-old daughter, said classroom conditions were “just as bad” when she was a student at Columbus City Schools.
“Sometimes you have to stand up for something,” Collins said of teachers. “It’s a great cause. They ask for reasonable things for these children. I’m with the teachers – I totally agree.
Near Livingston Elementary School, Kelley Freeman, whose 5-year-old son Arthur Freeman Green is entering kindergarten, said she was frustrated and blamed the school board for the standoff.
“He hasn’t really had a chance to be in public school before and I don’t think virtual school with substitute teachers is an acceptable option,” she said of Arthur. “He deserves teachers who are paid fairly who have safe, healthy classrooms with heat and air conditioning and no black mold.”
Freeman said she and her husband were “not going to cross the picket line” – meaning they weren’t planning on Arthur logging on to virtual classes. But she acknowledged that, because she is self-employed and her husband works from home, “not all parents have the same kind of flexibility that we do”.
Superintendent Talisa Dixon acknowledged in a message to families Wednesday night that the first day of school “wasn’t ideal.”
Dixon said she met families who stopped at all 25 sites in the district for take-out meals and Chromebooks.
Students and parents have reported difficulty connecting to virtual classrooms and staying connected throughout the day. The Columbus Dispatch reported that some parents were frustrated they couldn’t pick up laptops or Wi-Fi hotspots on Wednesday and were told to return to places where that equipment should be available Thursday.
“The first day also brought unexpected challenges. While we were determined to prepare for today’s unusual start, we fell short in some areas,” said Dixon.
“I want to assure you that our team is working hard to improve the systems and processes in place as we move forward in this unique environment,” she said. “We are adjusting how we distribute technology resources and how we monitor traffic while improving access to our online resources. We will continue to work until we resolve these issues.
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CNN’s Amy Simonson, Kim Berryman and Lucy Kafanov contributed to this report.