UPDATED: Gahanna-Jefferson teachers prepare to strike over instructional model inequities

Marla K. Kuhlman
ThisWeek group
Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools teachers demonstrate for equity, safety and success Sept 21 at the Lincoln Elementary School construction site.

Gahanna teachers have given notice that they will strike beginning at 12:01 a.m. Oct. 13 if ongoing contact talks aren’t successful.  

They say they aren’t happy how negotiations have been going and the proposed plan for a return to some in-person classes Oct. 13, so they voted overwhelmingly late Oct. 1 to authorize a 10-day strike notice.  

In a recent communication to families, Superintendent Steve Barrett said the district has “a compromise prepared” for the parties’ next mediation session.   

Betsy Baker, Gahanna-Jefferson Education Association spokesperson, said there’s no reason to wait. 

“The GJEA is prepared to immediately consider any proposals that protect student and staff safety, provide an equitable learning environment, regardless of chosen educational model, and set students up for success,” she said.  

She said the Oct. 1 vote to show the association’s intent to strike is a vote of confidence in its bargaining team and its fight for the schools Gahanna-Jefferson students deserves. 

“Of course, we don’t want to strike, but our students, teachers and community deserve a contract that keeps our kids safe, provides them with equitable learning conditions and sets them up for success,” Baker said. 

Judy Hengstebeck, Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools’ communications coordinator, said the school board approved the current one-year contract June 26, 2019, and it went into effect July 1, 2019. 

The terms of that agreement remain in effect until a new agreement is reached, she said. 

The board has scheduled an executive session at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 3, and at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 5, for “conducting or reviewing negotiations or bargaining sessions with employees,” according to notices from the district.  

“Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools leaders are deeply concerned about the recent actions of the teachers union as they consider a strike, especially as mediation sessions continue,” Barrett said. “The notice to strike is premature, and a strike could have long-term negative implications for our students and district. We have several dates scheduled for mediation, and we are willing to work hard toward a compromise.” 

Barrett said district leaders have been working diligently to address teachers’ concerns while preserving the best elements of hybrid- and distance-learning models.  

“We are firmly committed to (ensuring) the best education we can provide to our students within the constraints of the pandemic,” he said. “Our teachers have shared concerns around equity, especially our distance-learning students. We believe a model that includes livestreaming will allow our students continued access to their GJPS teachers, curriculum and course offerings.” 

Baker said the district isn’t considering that the plan for livestreaming could be what forces teachers out of their classrooms. She said students should be provided the opportunity to engage in “deep learning” regardless of the educational model they choose.  

“Distance learners should not be an afterthought,” she said. “A camera in the back of an in-person classroom does not allow for the high-quality instruction or engagement they deserve.”   

Baker said the GJEA supports the use of its own teachers instead of a third-party education provider for distance students, but its members don’t believe the district’s current plan would allow students to feel emotionally safe while learning.   

“Based on events that have already occurred this year, we believe that student information will be compromised by unnecessary, unmanageable and unreliable technology,” she said. 

Barrett said the safety of students and staff is a top priority. 

“We have a health and safety plan in place with clear protocols and all necessary PPE (personal protective equipment) available in our buildings,” he said. “Our conversations with our teachers are ongoing, and finding a compromise remains our goal. It is still our intention to return to our buildings and start the hybrid-learning model on Oct. 13. We hope that teachers do not choose to strike and instead work with us toward a resolution.”  

The teacher association’s late-night Oct. 1 meeting comes on the heels of a Sept. 29 unsuccessful mediation session. 

The teacher association authorized the bargaining team to send a “Notice of Intent to Strike and Picket” to the district and the State Employment Relations Board.  

Pursuant to Ohio Administrative Code 4117-13-01, the notice must be filed with SERB and received by the employer no later than 10 days prior to an anticipated strike date.  

Education First Credit Union has been selected as the strike-loan provider for members of the GJEA, which includes 572 teachers, Baker said. 

District and teacher bargaining teams are scheduled for further negotiations with a federal mediator Wednesday, Oct. 7.

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla