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Friday, September 29, 2023
Sept. 29, 2023

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Evergreen students rally in support of striking teachers

Pro-union Facebook group adds 1,400 members in two days

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
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Students and parents converged outside the Evergreen Public Schools district office Friday afternoon to express support for striking teachers. A parent group on Facebook supporting teachers, who have been on strike since Aug. 30 amid stalled contract negotiations with the district, added over 1,400 members since its creation Wednesday.
Students and parents converged outside the Evergreen Public Schools district office Friday afternoon to express support for striking teachers. A parent group on Facebook supporting teachers, who have been on strike since Aug. 30 amid stalled contract negotiations with the district, added over 1,400 members since its creation Wednesday. (Griffin Reilly/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

On day 10 of the teacher strike in Evergreen Public Schools, a new voice took center stage: students.

Hundreds of Evergreen students rallied outside the district headquarters early Friday afternoon, leading chants in support of teachers and calling on district leaders to find a deal that could reopen schools.

“Send me back to school!” yelled students, standing just a couple feet from the office’s front doors.

“We’ve been told the glass is soundproof,” said a megaphone-touting parent. “So let’s get louder!”

The students were joined by hundreds of parents who also led a picket line around district headquarters and Legacy High School. The rally was organized by an independent group on Facebook called “Evergreen Parents Support Red for Ed” that garnered over 1,400 members within just 48 hours of its creation on Wednesday.

An emailed statement from the district Friday indicated that leaders were aware of the display.

“We appreciate our families coming to the district office to make their voices heard,” the statement read. “We look forward to having their students return to the classroom following the resolution of this teachers strike.”

Community support on display Friday — now 10 days removed from the first day of the strike Aug. 30 — moved some union members to tears.

“We honestly didn’t think the public was going to be behind us when the strike started,” said Angie Lantagne, a special education teacher at Legacy High School. “What we’ve learned is that the public supports teachers. They see that what we do is meaningful, and that’s why we do this. We don’t do this for money.”

As the strike verges on a third week if a deal can’t be reached over the weekend, Lantagne and other staff said they remain motivated.

“We’re tired. We’re sore,” she said. “But we have Tylenol, we have Band-Aids, we have each other, and we have resolve.”

Pay delays

Under the Evergreen Education Association’s previous contract, teachers were paid one-twelfth of their annual salary every month — meaning that they receive a paycheck in July even though schools are not in session. The terms of the contract, however, expired Aug. 31, the district said.

Though pay may be delayed, the district said in a statement Thursday that it would not affect union members’ total salary — but they may not get that salary as soon as they expect.

“During a strike, teachers are not performing their duties under their contract, and therefore the district is not obligated to pay them until they return to work,” the statement said. “Any days that staff worked in August will be paid in September.”

Moreover, the district sent a notice to union president Kristie Peak on Wednesday night that if teachers don’t return to work Monday, their paychecks will be postponed until October.

“This is due to legal and fiduciary reasons, including that there will not have been enough days worked to earn a September paycheck,” the email reads.

A representative from the district couldn’t share additional details on the significance of the Sept. 11 deadline or the “legal and fiduciary reasons” cited.

Union members labeled the notice a “threat,” described the notice as “extremely” uncommon and said it could be a violation of state labor laws. A union member said Friday that when teachers went on strike for eight days in 2018 — longer than the current strike — there was no delay in their paycheck.

A representative for the Camas Education Association said the union received no similar warning about pay delays resulting from its six-day strike, which ended Wednesday, and that teachers expect to receive their normal paycheck at the end of the month.

Evergreen Education Association members said Friday they have filed grievances regarding the action.

“This is a decision by Superintendent (John) Boyd to attempt to divide and conquer educators for standing for our students, community and for each other,” a union statement shared Friday said.

Weekend bargaining

The union and district continued bargaining into the late afternoon Friday and are scheduled to meet again over the weekend starting this morning.

The Columbian will provide updates this weekend on the status of the strike’s potential continuation Monday, which would force an eighth day of closures.

The Camas School District had its first day of the 2023-24 school year Friday after union members approved a new contract with the district Thursday afternoon. Battle Ground Public Schools remains open while it continues to bargain with its own teachers union for a new contract.

For additional information on bargaining in Evergreen, visit the district’s webpage at https://sites.google.com/evergreenps.org/human-resources/eea-bargaining-update and the union’s website at https://www.eeaoffice.com/bargaining-updates.

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