Boston Public Schools teachers rallied Wednesday morning at multiple schools ahead of the fourth day of district contract negotiations in a week. Union members held “walk-ins,” entering the campuses at the Charles Sumner School, Curley K-8 School, and others to advocate for the union’s vision for special education in the district.
After about 10 months without a contract, union president Jessica Tang said the negotiators’ goal is still to reach a tentative agreement by the end of June, prior to the departure of Superintendent Brenda Cassellius, who announced her end-of-school-year resignation in February.
“Educators across the city are particularly energized because we are also running out of time to get this done by the end of the school year,” Tang said.
School district leaders are also hoping to get a deal by the end of the school year, district spokeswoman Gabrielle Farrell said in a statement.
“BPS values our hardworking and dedicated teachers,” Farrell said. “We have a shared interest in a student centered contract.”
The walk-ins were driven by union members eager to come to an agreement, Tang said. The rallying teachers received the support of allies, including Boston City Councilor At-Large Ruthzee Louijeune, and teachers sought to educate parents and other community members on what they are seeking in negotiations.
At all-day negotiation sessions last Friday and Saturday, the main area of contention, according to the union’s bargaining summary, was how to staff inclusion classrooms, where students with learning differences or disabilities are taught in general education classrooms.
The district is seeking to place more students with disabilities and English learners in general education classes, which would require either more licenses for those classroom teachers or more educators in those classrooms, including paraprofessionals.
“We want to make sure that inclusion is done right,” Tang said. “The sole delivery model shouldn’t just be one teacher with three different licenses. It needs to be a model where the services on a student’s IEP (Individual Education Plan) are able to be met by special education teachers who have the time and ability to fully provide those services.”
Improving special education and instruction for English learners is a mutual interest of the district and union, Tang said. Both issues are among those highlighted by a recent state report outlining troublesome areas in the city’s public schools.
“BPS is committed to serving our students with disabilities equitably by ensuring access to the least restrictive learning environments as required by law,” Farrell said. “As we know and as illustrated in the DESE report, BPS must urgently address longstanding barriers to a continuum of inclusive opportunities and practices in all BPS schools. Finding these solutions in collaboration with our educators is a critical next step in ensuring our students with disabilities receive access to the right opportunities so that they thrive.”
The union’s proposal also includes hiring more school psychologists, social workers, librarians, and other specialists.
Last month, the Boston School Bus Drivers Union approved a contract agreement with Transdev, Boston Public School’s private transit contractor, and was negotiated in partnership with BPS and Mayor Michelle Wu’s administration. The agreement may result in more buses punctually picking students up, requiring drivers to practice their routes prior to the first day of school, and no longer allowing drivers to take off time without advanced warning or permission.
Negotiators with BTU and the district plan to meet again Friday and Tuesday and have more tentative dates scheduled next week. The union is planning a rally for June 28.
“Our teams have been at the negotiating table and did a marathon session this past weekend,” Farrell said. “We have an agreed upon schedule to finish by the end of the school year. I know we can get this done and our team is engaged and eager to find the solutions forward to ensure our students receive an excellent and equitable education.”