Minneapolis teachers and educational support professionals began picketing outside of schools at 7:30 am Tuesday, marking the city district’s first teachers strike since 1970.
All classes will be canceled for the duration of the strike. The strike has left working families scrambling to figure out what to do with their kids. It’s a family quandary for Minneapolis parents who have endured two years of pandemic upheaval to their children’s education.
Union leaders announced the walkout Monday evening, saying they have been unable to reach an agreement with Minneapolis Public Schools.
St. Paul Public Schools will be in session Tuesday after the district reached a tentative agreement with the St. Paul Federation of Teachers late Monday. That agreement for a two-year contract includes higher wages, including for educational assistants, as well as class size caps, increased mental health supports and one-time payments for educators, the union said.
The Minneapolis union has pushed for a settlement on many of those same issues.
“We’re on strike for safe and stable schools and systemic change,” Greta Callahan, president of the teacher chapter of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, said at a Tuesday morning news conference as Justice Page Middle School in south Minneapolis.
She and other local and national teachers union leaders spoke as dozens of educators chanted and held picket signs nearby. She said little progress has been made toward setting the union’s top issues.
“We’re ready to get back to the table,” she said. “We want this to be the shortest strike possible.”
Negotiations between the union and the school district dragged on for months and the union filed its intent to strike in late February.
“Our members have put out a clear mandate — we need a livable wage for [educational support professionals]we need more mental health supports, we need class size caps and we need competitive wages with other districts,” Callahan said at a news conference Monday announcing the strike. “[District officials] have not moved significantly on any of those things.”
In a statement, Minneapolis Superintendent Ed Graff said, “While it is disappointing to hear this news, we know our organizations’ mutual priorities are based on our deep commitment to the education of Minneapolis students. MPS will remain at the mediation table nonstop in an effort to reduce the length and impact of this strike.”
Students can pick up meal bags with one breakfast and one lunch at their schools each day, and school-based clinics and mental health services will continue, the district said.
Families should arrange child care in the meantime, the district said, noting it can offer only a limited emergency child care program for students in pre-K through fifth grade.
Mount Olivet Lutheran Church in south Minneapolis took 100 students, from kindergarten through sixth grade, into its child-care program. The church normally runs a preschool-only daycare program with 40 children. It was a simple matter of helping the community, said Katy Michaletz, director of children and family ministry.
“We came together as a staff and decided what we could do,” she said. The church is committed to providing care this week and will assess the situation Friday. Michaletz hopes the strike will be settled by then.
“That would be the best outcome, right?” she said.
Joe Hecker, an 8th-grader at Anthony Middle School, helped wrangle the younger children staying at the church. His family members responded to a church e-mail seeking volunteers. Since he wouldn’t be going to school anyway, he decided to help.
“It’s been pretty fun,” he said. “It’s better than sitting home doing nothing.”
Shannyn Fagerstrom, a social worker working in early childhood at several school sites, joined teachers in a picket line along E. 34th St. and Chicago Ave. Tuesday. She said she is worried about the district possibly cutting its number of social workers, who are desperately needed.
Fifth graders have come back to school amid the pandemic with the social skills of third graders, she said, and some struggle with conflict management.
Natalie Ward, a teacher at Sheridan Dual Language Elementary, said she and her colleagues wished “we didn’t have to do it this way.”
“We all want to be in the classroom,” Ward said as a group of her colleagues dispersed after hours of picketing near the school Tuesday. “It’s hard to be out here knowing our kids aren’t getting what they need right now, but we’re fighting for a contract that will help them get what they deserve.”
Dozens of teachers picketed along Lake Street near 21st Avenue S. in South Minneapolis on Tuesday morning near the Center for Adult Learning.
They shouted “A union united will never be defeated” as cars drove by, many of them honking in support.
“A lot of people are showing up for us, said Jake Anderson, a special education teacher for Transitions Plus.
Enrique Vivas-Vaquero, who was a student at Transitions Plus through 2021, was supporting teachers on their strike. He said he wants to be a special education teacher.
“I came to support our teachers,” he said. “It’s really an honor to be helping out.”
Dozens of educators from Bethune Arts Elementary bundled up and walked along Highway 55 Tuesday morning. Union members danced to music blaring from a speaker and enjoyed donuts and coffee that were donated to them.
A few students stopped by to walk with their teachers, and passing cars honked in support.
“This is about our kids,” said Randolph Cooper, a substitute at Bethune. “We make the sacrifice for our children.”
As he drove to join his own colleagues on the picket line, Cooper said he saw educators in front of all the Minneapolis schools he passed.
“There’s overwhelming unity,” he said.
Staff writers Erin Adler and John Reinan contributed to this report.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism