by Ari Robin McKenna
As many students receiving special education services in what Seattle Public Schools (SPS) calls “intensive pathways” returned to in-person learning in early April, some local educators find themselves questioning whether their students will have improved opportunities for inclusion, or if the opposite is true. Supported by a federal law, which states that all students should learn in the “least restrictive environment,” inclusion requires that students with disabilities spend as much time as possible learning with their peers who do not receive special education services. While much attention has been focused on the myriad needs of students returning to hybrid, in-person learning, these teachers are concerned that inclusion of students with disabilities will be overlooked, and their need to be included will be unmet.
During the pandemic, one terrible example of exclusion was discovered in SPS at View Ridge Elementary School. According to a story by KUOW, the principal, assistant principal, and other staff members seem to have thought the least restrictive environment for an 8-year-old Black boy named Jaleel was to lock him in a caged play area for hours at a time where he sometimes ate while sitting on the floor. Though state law requires any instance of “restraint and isolation” to be reported, there was no paper trail, and while Jaleel’s case may or may not be an isolated event, it brought to the fore existing questions about whether there was a tendency to exclude BIPOC students — and particularly Black students — receiving special education services in SPS.
Continue reading SPS Educators Confront Issues of Race and Disability as Students Return to Schools
by Ari Robin McKenna
On March 19, Michelle Sarju announced her candidacy for the Seattle Public Schools (SPS) District 5 School Board Director seat. SPS District 5 includes most of the downtown area from the Sound to Lake Washington and, specifically, the neighborhoods of Capitol Hill, the Chinatown/International District, First Hill, Leschi, Madison, and the Central District. Outgoing District 5 Board Director Zachary DeWolf has been one of those who have endorsed Sarju as her campaign launched.
In an interview with the Emerald, Sarju reflected on her professional life and how she feels it has prepared her to step into this role at this particular, historic moment. She also spoke about why she thinks it’s important the board includes a Black resident from the Central District who has had three children in SPS.
Continue reading Michelle Sarju Talks About Her Candidacy for District 5 School Board Director
by Carolyn Bick
Even as Washingtonians mark their calendars for April 15, the day everyone aged 16 and older in the state will be able to get vaccinated, the viral storm clouds on the horizon are growing darker.
In the last week, the average daily COVID case rate in King County alone has risen to 250 new cases per day, Public Health — Seattle & King County (PHSKC) Public Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin told listeners in an April 2 press conference. This represents a 26% increase from the week before, and an 86% overall increase from the beginning of this most recent rise, which likely represents a fourth wave beginning, Duchin said.
Continue reading New COVID Cases Outpacing Vaccinations, Highest Among 18 to 24-Year-Olds
by Ari Robin McKenna
The only person with K–12 teaching experience on the current Seattle Public Schools Board of Directors represents District 7, which covers the South End — and he is currently teaching virtually during a pandemic. Each weekday at 3 p.m., after Brandon Hersey says goodbye to the 21 members of his online second grade class at Rainier View Elementary School in Federal Way, he pivots and puts on another hat. Then, until about 10 p.m. each day, Brandon Hersey reaches out to his constituents in District 7 and does the never-ending work of a school board director. Even though that job is unpaid, Hersey does not take it lightly.
“My primary concern, even though I am a district-wide, citywide elected official,” Hersey told the Emerald in an interview, “is how am I making this system better for the kids down this way? You know what I’m saying?”
Hersey, a resident of Rainier Beach, says he’s not just passing through or on his way up a career ladder. He’s seen a lot of well-meaning people contribute to the status quo rather than achieving the change they seek by doing just that. “If you’re just on an ‘upward trajectory,’ going from being a teacher to a superintendent,” Hersey says, “every move that you make is moving you farther and farther away from the students who are actually impacted by your decisions.”
Continue reading Brandon Hersey: The South End’s Director on the Seattle Public Schools Board
by Rae Rose
In a landmark decision last month, Seattle Public Schools (SPS) became the first district in Washington state to commit to transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. The unanimous vote came after years of work and testimony provided by youth, SPS employees, community members, and community organizations. This will definitely spotlight SPS as a leader and role model for other districts across our state to learn from in the fight for climate solutions.
This monumental decision will (I hope) serve as a catalyst for other districts to model and follow. United in their decision, all board members voted that the time to transition from fossil fuel dependency to clean renewable energy sources is now. The resolution, dated January 2021 and voted into action on Feb. 10, 2021, is a light of hope after an extremely hard and disheartening 2020.
Continue reading OPINION: Seattle Public Schools Commit to Going Fossil Fuel Free by 2040
by Elizabeth Turnbull
As of Tuesday, Seattle Public Schools (SPS) and the Seattle Education Association (SEA) arrived at a tentative agreement which may mean K–12 special education intensive service pathways students, all kindergarten through 5th grade students, and all preschool students will be returning to school buildings at the end of this month to early next month.
Continue reading Seattle Public Schools Outlines Potential Return to In-Person Learning for Some Students
by Andrew Engelson
In an online news conference Friday morning, Governor Jay Inslee announced — almost exactly one year to the day after he issued an order closing schools statewide to confront the rise of COVID-19 — that he will sign an emergency proclamation requiring all K-12 students in the state be provided with some in-class learning by the end of April. The order requires that by April 5, all students in grades K-6 must be provided a hybrid model of instruction with at least some in-class learning, and by April 19, all students in grades K-12 must be provided some in-class instruction.
Continue reading Governor Inslee Orders All Students To Have Option of In-Class Instruction by April 19
by Ari Robin McKenna
In a general membership meeting of the Highline Education Association (HEA) Monday night, teachers voted to begin a phased return to in-person learning for elementary students beginning with “Pre-K, kindergarten, grade 1, and students served in Intensive Academic Center (IAC) K–12” on March 11, and ending with grade 4 and grade 5 on April 1. A week earlier, the union’s general membership had voted to delay the return to in-person learning until April 19.
This about-face follows an intense, three days last week in which Highline Public School (HPS) Superintendent Susan Enfield announced she would be enlisting as a substitute teacher, a letter sent from HPS Human Resources to teachers who had not been granted remote teaching placement threatened them with “progressive discipline” for not returning to work, and a parent petition circulated claiming a “profound lack of confidence” in Enfield and the HPS school board. It also follows a weekend of further bargaining where “supplemental measures” to the existing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the two sides were developed.
Continue reading Highline Teachers Approve March 11 Return, Seattle Begins Limited In-Class Learning March 29
by Ari Robin McKenna
Yesterday evening, in a resounding show of solidarity, 98% of the Seattle Education Association (SEA) teachers who were present at a Special Representative Assembly cast votes of no confidence in Seattle Public Schools (SPS) Superintendent Denise Juneau, Chief Human Resources Officer and Lead Negotiator Clover Codd, and Chief Financial Officer and Chief Negotiator JoLynn Berge for, “attempting to unilaterally impose new working conditions upon SEA members without completing negotiations.”
Continue reading BREAKING: Seattle Educators Overwhelmingly Vote ‘No Confidence’ in Superintendent and Administration
by Ari Robin McKenna
On Friday, Feb. 26, Seattle Public School (SPS) District leaders for the second time announced a presumptive return date for a segment of its student population — despite not having an agreement with the union that represents teachers and other staff, the Seattle Education Association (SEA).
On Dec. 5, 2020, SPS Superintendent Denise Juneau caused SEA to cry foul when she announced a recommendation that students in pre-K through first grade and students in moderate to intensive special education service pathways should return to in-person on March 1. Later in the month, the Seattle School Board unanimously voted in support of Juneau’s aspirational reopening date, and bargaining teams began in earnest to sort through the many details involved in coming to an agreement with the union. In the meantime, a vocal minority of Seattle’s parents mounted pressure on the union to accept this date as though it were a given.
Then, at around 5 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 26, the last school day before their projected reopening date of March 1, teachers were again thrown for a loop when the headline on SPS’ website read, “Students in PreK-12 Intensive Service Pathways and Preschool Students Returning In-Person March 11.” This time, the school board voted (with Brandon Hersey the lone dissenting vote) to classify staff members who work with these returning students as essential workers.
Continue reading Leader of Seattle Education Association Reacts to Bargaining Over School Reopening