Evergreen Public Schools was closed for seven days to start the school year as teachers went on strike amid stalled contract negotiations. The closures spawned confusion, frustration and anger among parents in the community, who were left searching for answers from both the district and its teachers union.
Now some parents and staff say the week of anguish may have produced a new powerful sense of unity in the district.
Midway through the strike, three parents created a private Facebook group with the goal of bringing parents together to better understand the union’s goals and determine ways to support teachers on the picket line.
The group, called “Evergreen Parents Red for Ed” was born Wednesday, Sept. 6. Within 48 hours, the group had swelled to include 1,800 members. In hundreds of posts and comments per day, parents shared stories about their children and how they hoped to support their teachers.
On what would be the final day of the strike Friday, Sept. 8, hundreds of parents and students descended on the district’s headquarters with signs and voices shouting in support of teachers.
“I literally thought nobody would show up to the rally. I felt like a lot of what we were seeing in the group was just conversation and that it wouldn’t pan out,” said Courtney Bisig, one of the group’s founders and a parent of two children in the district. “When I showed up Friday, I started bawling because I never thought we’d see support like that.”
How did the group come together?
Bisig said before the strike she was “just a mom.” She wasn’t overly involved in parent-teacher groups and had no experience in advocacy. When her daughter started kindergarten, Bisig helped provide the teacher with school supplies and slowly learned about the challenges they faced.
It was when Bisig’s daughter started expressing concerns about her safety in the classroom, after unaddressed bullying and classroom interruptions, that her tone changed.
“Last year, when my daughter came home from school crying multiple days in a row I turned into a mama bear. I started asking questions about why this was happening,” Bisig said. “I talked to the principal for a long period of time, but she was honest with me and said ‘We don’t have help.’”
Just hours before the Facebook group was created, Bisig said she and a handful of other parents were invited to a meeting with representatives from the Evergreen Education Association to better learn what teachers were fighting for and to brainstorm ways parents could support them.
“It was then I realized what was really happening,” said Meghan Taylor, another founder of the group and the vice president of Pioneer Elementary School’s parent-teacher association. “We’ve been in the schools, we’ve seen the holes. For the district to be saying this was about money felt like they were either being misleading or they just didn’t understand.”
Taylor, Bisig and another parent, Amy Prentice, left the meeting Wednesday night with the goal to run a social media campaign and hold a rally later that week. Unbeknownst to them at the time, those goals were quickly met.
The trio of parents were present at Tuesday evening’s board meeting; Prentice shared testimony asking the board and superintendent to hold true to promises made in the district’s strategic plan and during bargaining.
Later in the meeting, a district representative shared a video outlining the goal of the plan, titled “Belonging for each, success for all.”
Board director Victoria Bradford also said she hopes to make greater transparency in the collective bargaining process going forward and plans to research it herself.
“We need to have things be more transparent so that everybody feels like they’re getting the right information,” Bradford said. “We’re all in this together.”
Going forward, the trio of parents hope to use the Facebook group’s energy to pack more board meetings and press the board to directly address their concerns about safety and staffing shortages. Communication and transparency on the board, they said, has been an issue long before this year’s strike.
“The big step we’re taking is trying to recall members of the board, to be honest. Some of these members have been here for a really long time and nothing is changing,” Taylor said.
Bisig added she’d like to see the board hold the district responsible for promises made in the new union contract, namely the promise to hire a handful of new paraeducators to support classroom teachers.
The group’s leaders are also hoping to establish a relationship with the Evergreen Education Association to continue to keep parents connected with challenges faced by the teachers and union. In a union leadership meeting Monday, Bisig, Taylor and Prentice were named “VIPs” — a monthly award typically given to a union member who uses their “voice, influence and power” effectively — for their work organizing during the strike.
“When you live in this big district, you feel very alone when you’re just one person. This group brought a ton of people and made us realize we aren’t alone,” Bisig said. “There are moms who have been fighting battles alone for years, and now they’re realizing they’re each in the same boat. So now they can have difficult conversations and work together. We’re all fighting for the same things.”