Edmonds teachers and district at odds over school schedule

Teachers want more prep time than the district is offering. A mediator will try to resolve the dispute.

EDMONDS — Students in Edmonds public schools will begin classes in two weeks, but how they will spend their day is a point of contention between the district and teachers.

And now a mediator is getting called in to help resolve the disagreement.

The Edmonds School District is to start Sept. 9 with remote learning across all grade levels. Leaders of the district and the Edmonds Education Association are negotiating a memorandum of understanding about the amount of unassigned time teachers will have to prepare lesson plans, hone instruction strategies and interact with students and their families.

The outcome will impact the daily class schedules for roughly 20,000 elementary and secondary students.

Teachers are pressing for more time than district negotiators are offering. They contend that in a fully remote environment, every aspect of their job can take longer and require greater effort.

Plus, they will need to do things like keep attendance and give grades, which they did not have to do last spring, when the coronavirus outbreak forced schools to abruptly close and switch to online learning.

“The expectations are so much higher and the teaching load is so much heavier than the spring,” said Andi Nofziger-Meadows, president of the association which represents the district’s certificated teachers. “Everything in a remote environment takes exponentially more time.”

Bargaining broke down in recent days, prompting a mediation session Thursday.

“We’ve tried proposal after proposal after proposal and we keep getting told no,” Nofziger-Meadows said. “We are disappointed that we are in this place. We want to focus on teachers and learning. There is going to be a lot of learning this year for teachers, and that’s why we need the time.”

Tuesday evening, 450 people, mostly teachers and parents, submitted public comments at the Edmonds School Board meeting conducted online.

Directors read 25 comments aloud, and each one urged them to back classroom instructors’ demands. Teachers described the stress of working nights and weekends in spring to quickly re-calibrate curricula and teaching methods to engage students.

On finishing the reading of comments, board President Deborah Kilgore responded. She said the board’s role will be to “ratify, not negotiate” any agreement, and it would be “inappropriate” for directors to comment on the ongoing negotiations.

But she said directors are “united” in their commitment to students and understand “the important role” teachers play in their educational experience.

On Wednesday, Edmonds Superintendent Gustavo Balderas issued a statement confirming Thursday’s mediation is about “one outstanding item at the bargaining table.”

“The outstanding item has to do with teacher unassigned time,” he said. “The district continues the bargaining process in good faith with the EEA. We believe our district has incredible teachers and their presence has never been more important than in this unprecedented time of remote learning.”

The dispute does not imperil the start of classes. Nor does it involve wages or other issues. The district and teachers agreed in July to extend the current collective bargaining agreement by a year.

Meanwhile, the school board on Tuesday unanimously approved sending the district’s plan for reopening with “Continuous Learning 2.0” to the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The plan, which Balderas submitted Wednesday, is a work in progress. It lacks details on how attendance will be taken and grades given. And the proposed daily schedules for elementary, middle school and high school students are drafts and hinge on the outcome of the negotiations.

“We still have some missing pieces and some holes,” Balderas told school board members Tuesday night. “We know adjustments will be made throughout the year.”

In early July, the school board decided to begin the school year with a blend of in-person and online learning. Students were to be divided into two groups that would each spend two days a week in the classroom and three days at home with remote learning.

By the end of the month, with cases of coronavirus spiking, Dr. Chris Spitters, Snohomish County’s public health officer, recommended against students returning to campuses in September.

Edmonds, like other public school districts in the county, immediately pivoted to full online learning.

However, in a July 29 message to the community, Balderas said the district is eyeing a potential transition to the hybrid model starting Nov. 12 “if it is safe to do so.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.

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