Reopening Washington Schools 2020-21 Workgroup

“In March 2020, due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Governor Inslee closed Washington’s K–12 schools from providing traditional, in-person instruction for the remainder of the 2019–20 school year.

In May 2020, OSPI convened a stakeholder workgroup to inform recommendations and guidance for school districts as they plan for the reopening of Washington’s schools in the 2020–21 school year. The broad workgroup consists of more than 100 educators, education leaders, elected officials, community-based organizations, parents, students, and community members.” (source)

One of these workgroup members is our very own Jennifer Saladis. Jennifer works as a paraeducator in Auburn School District, is her chapter’s classification rep, her building’s building rep, and is also representing Zone 7 on PSE’s Legislative Council.

Jennifer has been working on OSPI’s 123-member workgroup since May 13th, and has had the opportunity to represent our union along with two other PSE members: Jodi Jaap, a child nutrition member in Monroe, and Ryan Peterson, a transportation member in Kennewick. For the entire list of workgroup members, CLICK HERE.

Jennifer is honored to be representing our union in making these unprecedented decisions and is dedicated to ensuring all Education Support Professionals are advocated for.

“It’s been a huge eye opener to have been a part of this group, because we all look at our jobs in the scope of our jobs, we don’t always look at it in full scope. I don’t always take into account what a custodian, or a transportation member, or a building administrator may need in their job,” she says. “The bottom line is it has been a real privilege to represent the classified.”

Jennifer explains that the larger workgroup is also split into smaller break-out groups during each meeting.

“Getting to hear what happened in each of the smaller work groups in our final meeting brought everything full circle and really showed most of us the larger picture,” she explains. “There is a lot of uncertainty moving forward, but I also think that this is an extremely powerful time in history where we have the opportunity to have our voices heard. Classified members should be contacting their local reps, state reps, and senators and urging them to not make cuts in education during this upcoming legislative session. In that same token, we need to be reaching out to those elected officials and letting them know that paraeducators and other classified staff are just as valuable as certified teachers. It’s also an election year and we need to nominate individual who have PSE’s best interest at heart.”

OSPI’s 123-member workgroup is specific to K-12, but Jennifer wants to ensure our Higher Ed members don’t get left out of these conversations.

“This all is affecting higher ed as well, as they are also facing budget cuts,” she explains. “If you’re in higher ed and have questions on how to get more involved, you should reach out to your legislative council member and ask. And that goes for all other members as well.”

Some districts across the state are discussing layoffs and reduction of force or hours, but Jennifer, as well as our organization as a whole, feels strongly that there are other ways to cut costs that are far less detrimental than cutting our classified.

“We can come up with other things than cutting classified staff,” she states. “Utilizing our classified staff in a multitude of ways to keep them all employed is better for the economy in the long run, as well as better for our students and the rest of the staff we work with.”

The workgroup is planning on releasing a final statement on Friday, June 12th.

“They will likely lay out three to five plans that districts can choose from and mold into what they need. It’s all going to depend on health data in your area when it comes time to re-open,” Jennifer says. “The Department of Health is putting out their recommendations and guidelines as well.”

Although Jennifer does not have all the answers as to how we will be returning to school this fall, she can say this: “COVID is going to be with us for the next 18 – 24 months, and this is going to be a fluid work in progress. Things are going to change as the health data in every community evolves. We just need to make sure we’re all being flexible. And also, for classified in particular, we need to make sure our district admin know how valuable and integral we are to every part of this machine. Please keep checking the workgroup website and staying educated so we are all well equipped to help our districts serve our students better.”

For more information on the 123-member workgroup, CLICK HERE.

We will provide updates and findings regarding the return of school as more information becomes available.

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