Columbus, Ohio, teacher strike: Students and parents worry about online classes even as they support strike

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The Columbus Education Association and the Columbus City Schools Board of Education were meeting Wednesday afternoon as they remained at odds over a new contract for teachers and school workers.

Both sides remained silent on Wednesday evening, offering no information on whether those talks had progressed to a new contract for the union’s roughly 4,500 members and an end to the strike that began on Monday.

Regina Fuentes, spokeswoman for the teachers’ union, told 8:30 p.m. there was no indication that negotiators had concluded a meeting that was due to start at 1 p.m.

School district communications director Jacqueline Bryant told CNN in an email, “There is no update at this time.”

Teachers were demanding 8% pay rises, along with commitments to improve heating and air conditioning in dilapidated buildings, smaller classrooms and more. The district had offered 3% wage increases and was reluctant to include language about school improvements in its contract with the union.

On Wednesday, the school district was relying on replacements to lead virtual classrooms with about 4,500 striking teachers, librarians, counselors and other school workers.

Outside the Barnett Community Center, one of nine locations open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. that the Columbus Department of Recreation and Parks has designated as support centers for students to complete their online work, three students said they hoped for a return to the virtual era of the start of the pandemic. the courses are of short duration.

“We’re a team school. We don’t want to go back to virtual,” said Coreaa Taylor, who is set to start 9th grade at Walnut Ridge High School.

“It’s boring,” said Jamaal Reed, who is starting 8th grade at Sherwood Middle School, of virtual learning. “We want to see our friends. We always want to do things at school. It’s like a bond with friends that you only see if you’re at school.”

“I really don’t want to be virtual,” said Linwood Allison, who is starting 12th grade at Walnut Ridge.

“When you’re at home, you’re not going to have the same ambition. At home, you want to be lazy,” Allison said. “Some people feel motivated by their classmates, or their teacher can help them a lot.”

However, despite disliking remote learning, all three said the striking teachers made good points about overcrowded classrooms and heating and air conditioning issues.

At Walnut Ridge High School, where Columbus City Schools completed HVAC work in 2018, classrooms remain unreasonably hot, Allison said.

“These are saunas,” he said. “Ridge needs a lot of work – like, a lot of work.”

Why teachers seem more willing to strike

Jazmyne Collins, a construction worker who was picking up a Chromebook for her 9-year-old daughter, said classroom conditions were “just as bad” when she was a student at Columbus City Schools.

“Sometimes you have to stand up for something,” Collins said of teachers. “It’s a great cause. They’re asking for reasonable things for these kids. I support the teachers – I totally agree.”

However, she said childcare will be a strain for many parents – including her – and said even those who have parents or other childcare options are not ready to teach children. students.

“Right now I’m supposed to be at work,” Collins said. “How can you just cancel work? How can you just not go?”

Near Livingston Elementary School, Kelley Freeman, whose 5-year-old son Arthur Freeman Green is about to start kindergarten, said she was frustrated and blamed the school board for the standoff.

“He hasn’t really had a chance to go to public school before and I don’t think virtual school with substitute teachers is an acceptable option,” she said of Arthur. “He deserves teachers who are paid fairly who have safe, healthy classrooms with heat and air conditioning and no black mold.”

Freeman said she and her husband “are not going to cross the picket line” – meaning they are not planning on Arthur logging on to virtual classes. But she acknowledged that because she is self-employed and her husband works from home, “not all parents have the same kind of flexibility that we do.”

Superintendent Talisa Dixon acknowledged in a message to families Wednesday night that the first day of school “wasn’t ideal.”

Dixon said she met families who stopped at all 25 sites in the district for take-out meals and Chromebooks.

Students and parents have reported difficulty connecting to virtual classrooms and staying connected throughout the day. The Columbus Dispatch reported that some parents were frustrated they couldn’t pick up laptops or Wi-Fi hotspots on Wednesday and were told to return to places where that equipment should be available Thursday.

“Day one also brought unexpected challenges. While we were determined to prepare for today’s unusual start, we fell short in some areas,” Dixon said.

“I want to assure you that our team is working hard to improve the systems and processes in place as we move forward in this unique environment,” she said. “We are adjusting how we distribute technology resources and how we monitor traffic while improving access to our online resources. We will continue to work until we resolve these issues.”

CNN’s Kim Berryman and Lucy Kafanov contributed to this report.

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