Seattle students resist teaching position cuts

September 27, 2018

Students at Seattle’s Nova High School walked out of class in defense of their own teachers and teachers across the city who face layoffs, reports Steve Leigh.

STUDENTS OPPOSED to the Seattle Public Schools’ plan to eliminate 33 teaching positions are taking action to express their anger with a walkout and march on City Hall.

District officials claim that since their budget is being cut by $7.5 million due to lower than expected enrollment, they must make these cuts. Opponents of this move — including Social Equity Educators (SEE), a rank-and-file social justice caucus of the Seattle Education Association (SEA) — point out that the district still has $3 million in reserves, more than enough to cover those positions.

Besides this, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s new budget proposal calls for hiring 40 more cops, who are paid significantly more than teachers. Though the city does not directly fund the schools, this shows that money is available if politicians were willing to be even a little creative.

Seattle is one of the most prosperous cities in the world. The world’s richest man, Seattle resident Jeff Bezos of Amazon, is worth $164 billion. His pocket change could cover the 33 positions. Finally, the state legislature recently allocated more than $2 billion for school employees’ pay increases.

Students at Nova High School in Seattle stage a walkout against teacher layoffs
Students at Nova High School in Seattle stage a walkout against teacher layoffs (@caseyworks | Twitter)

Students understand these realities and are fighting back.

ON SEPTMEBER 26, about 100 students from Nova High School, a public alternative school, marched on City Hall, demanding that the cuts be rescinded. They then took over the City Council chambers and held a speak-out in the lobby for more than an hour.

As they were getting started, they had to fend off a right-wing community member who demanded to speak. They quickly shouted him down, and he eventually left.

Of the 100 students there, about 25 got up to speak to their peers. The students were passionate and articulate in defense of their school as their comments show:

“I love this school. Every teacher goes out of their way to help us. Now is the time to help them.”

“I don’t want any of these teachers to go. They’re like family. We don’t want family members taken away.”

“Here I can grow and learn. It means so much to me to have these teachers.”

“Nova has changed my life. I have an individual connection and bond with my teachers. Every teacher has helped me.”

What you can do

Tell Superintendent Denise Juneau to stop the cutting of 33 positions of Seattle Education Association members. Attend one of her “Listening and Learning Tour” events and join the protests.

Sign a petition calling on Seattle Public Schools to immediately restore the 33 eliminated teachers’ positions.

Though their main emphasis was on protecting Nova from the cuts, the students also supported the broader movement across the district. “We have to fight for all 33 teachers threatened with cuts, one said. “They [school officials] have a surplus of funding.” Another student agreed: “It’s not about money or enrollment. It’s about respect.”

These comments got widespread applause. The students were optimistic, but also weren’t so optimistic to think that one rally alone would be enough. “We will not be pushed over,” said one. “We’re stronger together!” Another chimed in: “I want to make sure we’re heard! We’ll be back again to make more noise.”

With Denise Juneau, the new school superintendent, currently holding a “listening tour,” students should give her plenty of opportunities to hear what they have to say. Other superintendents have been pushed out for unpopular policies — and Juneau should be, too, if she doesn’t reverse the cuts.

Let’s make her tenure dependent on how well she uses her “listening” skills.

Further Reading

From the archives