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Akron teachers prepared to strike Monday if deal not reached by the weekend

Students, parents prepare for switch to online learning
Akron Public Schools Administration Building
Posted at 6:05 PM, Jan 05, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-05 19:54:05-05

AKRON, Ohio — The last time Akron teachers went on strike was 1989. It lasted nine days. At the time, Heather Pollock was a senior at Firestone High School. She remembers joining other students who picketed on behalf of teachers.

"We stood by them, of course," Pollock said.

But Pollock also recalled that it was a stressful time because interruption from school made it difficult for kids to apply timely for colleges and scholarships.

"We ended up missing enough days that we lost our spring break, so people were bummed about that, you know senior year, but we had to go to school further into June," she said.

Thirty-four years later, Pollock has a fourth-grade daughter who attends King Community Learning Center in Akron and the family is preparing for the possibility of another strike.

"I do think both sides are responsible, but I think the weight of this is on the administrators to support the people they've employed and who are doing the work."

On Thursday afternoon, negotiations before a federal mediator at Akron Board of Education building resumed between administrators and representatives from the Akron Education Association.

With no tentative deal reached, potential last-ditch negotiations are expected to resume Saturday morning.

Pat Shipe, president of AEA, said teachers are prepared to picket beginning at 7:30 a.m. Monday if a strike can't be averted.

"We're hopeful to make progress. A strike is the last thing we want," Shipe said before Thursday's negotiation session. "It's not good for teachers. They would rather be in a classroom. It's not good for students or the community. It's not good for the relationships we try to build every day. We're hoping that calmer heads will prevail."

Among the major sticking points are health insurance costs and wages.

The union asked for 5% raises over each of the next three years. The board counter-offered with around 2% yearly.

A fact-finder's recommendation was closer to the board, topping out at 2.5% in the final year of the proposed contract.

The board approved the fact-finder's report, but the union overwhelmingly rejected it, setting the stage for mediation. The union filed a 10-day strike notice in December.

Another major issue remains school safety and discipline. Several teacher have voiced concerns about recent incidents involving weapons in schools and fights that have injured students and teachers.

The way the word "assault" is defined in the union contract has been a major point of contention.

The administration wanted to replace "contact" with "injury" in the contract language as a way to determine physical assault. The union opposes the change.

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"What we're talking about is the violence that's within our building, in our classroom, in our hallways. We've got to have an understanding of what assault is and what it's not," Shipe said.

Through APS spokesperson Mark Williamson, Superintendent Christine Fowler Mack declined to make any comment on the looming strike, but during an exclusive interview with News 5 in December, she said there was "room to come together."

"If there's a strike, I don't want to think about that, but we'll be prepared for any next step with students as our priority," Fowler Mack said on Dec. 7.

If necessary, the district will implement an action plan that will include student online instruction from home. School buildings would be closed.

Kate Robbins, who has a third-grade daughter at King CLC, supports the teachers and isn't sure if her child will participate in the virtual option.

"I'm still weighing the requirements, but it does seem to me like it would be virtually crossing the picket line," Robbins said. "This is sort of a flashback to a few years ago when we were required to do remote learning and it was not a positive experience for us."

Many parents are also worried about scrambling to find childcare if there's a strike.

Pollock said her situation will be okay, but knows other families will struggle.

"Childcare is a big deal, making sure that children are safe if their parents have to go off to work," Pollock said.

If the strike moves forward, grab-and-go meals will be provided to families outside of several school buildings from 11 a.m. to noon. The district has also posted answers to frequently asked questions on their website.

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