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March 5, 2021

Fellow HEA members,

It is a rare day that we are faced with making a choice that pits cherished values against each other.  The district has now officially communicated that IAC grades K-12, PreK, K, their support staff are at risk of discipline, up to termination if they fail to show up in-person on March 11.  As we progress further into March, additional members who are being asked to return and refuse will face similar consequences from the district.  We honor these members and respect the untenable choices they are facing and the anguish many are feeling.

Please know that our bargainers are working toward a creative solution that our members will feel good about approving at a general membership (GM) meeting tentatively set for 4:30PM MONDAY, March 8.  A special edition of the EFocus with the registration link will be sent to personal emails if a new agreement is reached over the weekend.  Watch for it Monday morning and be sure to register (only once).

During these challenging times, we are fighting hard at the bargaining table. If you would like to be part of the bargaining support team, please email Katie Utesch to be added.  For those returning in person, our next action is a listening session.  Please watch for email link scheduled for Saturday from 2:00-3:00PM. This will be an opportunity solely offered to those scheduled to return in-person.  At the close of the listening session, a survey will be sent to these same members.  BSTs should be communicating about the listening session, the survey and potential GM meeting to those members currently slated to return (classroom teachers, support positions/substitutes and special education teachers).  

At the same time, we expect the district to move forward with the process of filing an injunction against HEA, asking a judge to order educators to follow the March 11 in-person transition plan.  We will keep you apprised through your building reps or the Efocus.

Finally, please help your elementary and IAC colleagues feel supported with whatever action they personally feel compelled to take about returning to work if we don’t have a settlement by March 11.  Our membership has stood up for our community and voted to stay remote to keep our students, ourselves, and our communities safe.  We must stand up in the same for each other.

How did we get here?

When Governor Inslee lowered the COVID-19 transmission levels required to re-open our buildings, HEA members organized to protect our students and ourselves.  Empowered in our union, 86% of members committed to take action in order to keep our school communities safe.  So when HSD came to us with a building re-opening date that was too soon for safety, our membership spoke and empowered the bargaining team to successfully push the transition date from March 1st to March 11th.

As fate would have it, the timing of our second general membership meeting coincided with the opening up of vaccinations to all educators.  With immunity so close, 63% majority voted to send us back to the bargaining table to demand an April 19 return date.  During the debate, members shared concerns about access to vaccine, getting fully vaccinated before coming back, and assisting our BIPOC communities in getting vaccine access and public health information.

This vote, however, was not without consequences to those returning to buildings as well as for the association.  At this point, indications are, the majority of the elementary and IAC teachers slated to return for in-person instruction are also not interested in moving the date any later.  The district’s interest is stability and keeping their promise of getting kids into schools on March 11.  

In essence, we are bargaining over the school district’s obligation to the community in a pandemic.  We believe they have a responsibility to meet students’ and educators’ needs and to facilitate vaccine access and information for our BIPOC communities. We know this benefits the school district if we can achieve herd immunity which will allow us to create a more normal learning experience for our students. Does the school district hold any responsibility to addressing the inequities in our society?  How can we use our privilege of getting and knowing about vaccines to lift up the community around us?  

What can we expect to happen next?

The HEA and HSD bargaining teams met on Thursday and Friday for several hours.  Here is what lies ahead.

  • Saturday morning, we will return to the bargaining table to continue to try to find common ground with the district and reach a settlement that honors member demands for an April 19 return.
  • Saturday afternoon, the HEA Bargaining Support Team is putting together listening sessions for those members asked to go back in person next week and members being asked to substitute.  
  • Sunday, the HSD has scheduled a vaccine clinic for educators.  They are rightly prioritizing the staff who are already working in-person with students, as well as those slated to return to in-person instruction in coming weeks.  More information about that clinic is found in your school district email.
  • Monday, if we have reached a settlement, we will send you the link to the general membership meeting.  At our next meeting, we will center the voices of the 90+ members who are expected to go back on March 11, so we can create space for them to communicate their needs and wants.  As a union, we are committed to making nformed decisions that best meet the needs of our educators and our students.
  • That day, we will learn more about the injunction filing and the likely timeline for a hearing.

The next few days are going to be difficult as we wrestle with these core questions about responsibility, intent, solidarity, and union power.  Each of us needs to show up ready to listen thoughtfully and consider different perspectives.  I believe in my heart that we will persevere and these struggles will make our union stronger.  



President, Highline Education Association