Teachers who gathered to strike on campuses in Vancouver Public Schools were joined by some of their smallest supporters: their children.
To be clear, their actual children — though as Hudson’s Bay High School math teacher Joanie Hahn puts it, she’s got her home family, then her school family.
She held her 4-year-old daughter, Charlotte, on her hip while her 7-year-old son, Jared, watched his mom’s co-workers picket. Wednesday was supposed to be Jared’s first day of school at Sarah J. Anderson Elementary School, too.
“It’s important for them to be a part of this,” Hahn said. “It’s a special moment, not just for their mommy as a teacher, but for their future as students.”
Wednesday was the second day of teacher strikes across Clark County. Vancouver, Battle Ground, Ridgefield and Hockinson teachers took to the picket lines.
Evergreen and Washougal started striking Tuesday. Camas voted to approve a strike, but classes aren’t supposed to start until Tuesday.
Teachers remain at odds over salary agreements, as districts around Washington negotiate how to spend the additional money they’re slated to receive after two years of McCleary legislation. The Legislature allocated $7.3 billion over four years toward basic education during the 2017 session, then put another $1 billion toward teacher salaries this year.
Southwest Washington has been the hub of labor activity in the state. Nearly every local district has either gone on strike or voted to do so. In Seattle, teachers voted Tuesday night to strike effective Wednesday if a deal is not reached.
Meanwhile, 184 local unions representing teachers and other school staff continue to negotiate around the state, according to the Washington Education Association.
On the first day of the strike, teachers were at all school locations in Ridgefield. Outside of the new Sunset Ridge Intermediate School and View Ridge Middle School 5-8 campus, teachers marched while chanting why they were striking: “caseload, class size, compensation, curriculum.”
Across South Hillhurst Road from Ridgefield High School, teachers marched and waved to drivers, many of whom honked and waved back while passing. Austin Biel, a math teacher heading into his fourth year at the school, held up a sign that read, “This is not a bargaining crisis. It is a district leadership crisis.”
“The district is taking money and not using it for its intended purpose,” Biel said. “That intended purpose is class size, support for special education and teacher pay.”
Community members around the county have shown teachers support. On Wednesday, Shauna Baker walked from school to school around Ridgefield holding up a sign that read, “Homeschooling my children will send me to prison. Support our teachers.” Her sign was a big hit with the high school teachers, and Baker, who has three children currently in the district and three children who graduated from Ridgefield schools, joined in the picket line for a few minutes.
“I need to support over here,” said Baker, who drives a school bus for the KWRL Transportation Cooperative. “These are good teachers. These are good people. They go above and beyond to help kids. We’ve had teachers stay after school and give up their lunchtime to help kids.”
At Hough Elementary School in Vancouver, special education teacher Melissa Cantwell and her fellow teachers were greeted by encouraging notes written in chalk on the ground.
“Hough teachers deserve better,” was written out in pink at the school’s front doors. “Fair compensation,” read a blue and orange message. “Teachers rule,” in a child’s untidy scrawl, adorned a planter.
Cantwell said she cried when she saw the messages.
“You can feel the support, which is fabulous,” Cantwell said.
Cantwell added that, as teachers gathered in the morning, several English-language learning students showed up at school, apparently unaware class had been canceled.
“That was a heart wrencher for sure,” she said. “Nail in the coffin.”
Vancouver district spokeswoman Pat Nuzzo said the district sent out emails, auto-calls and texts to all parents alerting them of the closure translated in Spanish, Russian and Chuukese. The district also added the information to its website in those languages after being asked about the issue by The Columbian.
Battle Ground Public Schools teachers also took to the picket lines, demonstrating at their campuses across north Clark County.
Negotiating was paused because the full bargaining team was unavailable. That gave Linda Peterson, president of the Battle Ground Education Association, and her bargaining team a chance to take a field trip to every building in the sprawling district.
“They are making history, and they are not going to back down,” Peterson said by text. “We have a dedicated committed union membership that understands the importance of this strike.”
Ridgefield Education Association President Joe Thayer didn’t expect to be on the picket line Wednesday, but the union and district’s mediator was working in Longview on Wednesday. The union, district and mediator couldn’t find a day to meet until Saturday, so classes are canceled the rest of the week while the two sides wait to resume bargaining. Thayer, a seventh- and eighth-grade math teacher, is among the teachers and students waiting to get in the new building once the strike is over.
The new 5-8 campus is expected to house around 1,200 students. The district funded the new campus with a $78 million bond issue passed by voters in 2017, and started doing design work prior to the election so once the bond passed, construction could begin.
“It’s a beautiful school,” Thayer said. “I’ve been teaching in a portable the last three years. I’d rather be in the new building than a portable, but I’d rather be with the kids more than anything. The new building is the icing. I want the cake.”