Better Bargaining Needed Now for ALL in Seattle Public Schools!
The Seattle teacher's strike is very much in the news and for important reasons - but there is much more to the story that needs to be told. For years, the Occupational Therapists (OTs), Physical Therapists (PTs), and Speech Therapists (SLPs) in the district have been working without contractual caseload limits in place, unlike in other districts, where corresponding increases in staff hiring occurs regularly along with increases in student population in order to maintain manageable workloads and satisfactory levels of Special Education (SpEd) service provision. Several years ago, a lack of adequately providing such services in Seattle and meeting the legal compliance standards involved led to the filing of many complaints by parents and the eventual intervention by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) which is still currently underway.
What therapists need in order to do their jobs is to have this matter concluded and settled based on the agreed to numbers, not some new arbitrarily derived caseload amounts to be "worked towards" based on some vague allegations of what is considered as affordable or not within the district's overall budget. Therapists also desperately need to experience some form of demonstrated assurance that both the district and the union are now willing to start keeping their promises with them and treat them as respected and valued employees who will be receiving the same level of supports and protections they are entitled to and which are provided to all other dues paying members. There also needs to be an immediate end to considering and treating SpEd students and the services they require as being mere bargaining chips to be traded off in lieu of attempts to try and attain other priorities, such as staff raises which, while important, should not be considered as something to even be put on the same scale of required working condition provisions to be measured against each other. These services are legally required and not something to be considered as optional to be "working towards" their eventual full provision. If other districts can exercise the means and effort necessary to meet these basic obligations to their students by providing and maintaining reasonable workloads for their SpEd service providers then so, too, must Seattle. And, just as class size matters so much to the union for their teachers then so, too, does caseload size need to matter for their therapists.
For those who would like to help encourage this process of improving SpEd service provision for Seattle's students, please take the time to immediately contact some or all of the very accomplished and influential individuals below and share your thoughts on the matter regarding establishing therapist caseload limits and treating their employees more fairly. There is a continual learning process occurring for all of us and, especially with limited resources, it is vital that we understand and appreciate just how important the issues are to you and what needs to be considered as basically non-negotiable deal breaker priorities. It's obviously imperative that we need to create a collaborative contract that makes sense for ALL of our students and educators and not continue to waste precious time and energy with more backwards and bad faith forms of bargaining. The students deserve our best sincere and dedicated efforts on their behalf and, especially with the financial resources now more available than ever, we need to end once and for all what really constitutes discriminatory and abusive treatment of certain classifications of employees and the students they need to serve. In order to do so, let's now formalize and implement what's already been settled in terms of the caseload limits and start the reboot process of establishing more respectful, productive, and effective working relationships between all the members of our educational community, including those between our district and union teammates. Already agreed to caseloads now!
Kevin Hiniker, M.Ed., OTR/L
Seattle Public Schools