School districts begin to return to in person learning even as COVID cases hit all-time highs

Photo by MChe Lee on Unsplash

Last week, Bellevue School District began opening schools back up to grades K through 2, despite the still-growing pandemic and lack of vaccine availability. This made the Bellevue School District the largest school district in King County to open schools. The general plan was to split the students into morning and afternoon groups, enforce social distancing in the classroom with desks six feet apart, and offer neither lunch nor recess. 

Although some parents were elated to finally begin their freedom from home schooling, teachers were not. Due to the absence of a COVID-19 vaccine to the general public, many teachers in the Bellevue School District believed being forced to work in-person was a violation of their pandemic agreement in their union. Because of this, last Thursday, the first day back at school, some teachers began not showing up, not wishing to choose between their health and their jobs. They and their union, the Bellevue Education Association, argued they should not be teaching in person classes until there is a vaccine available.

Just hours into the first school day, the Bellevue School District sued the Bellevue Education Association. The Bellevue School District believed the Education Association was breaking their contract by allowing teachers to refuse to show up to work, as striking and stopping work were both against contract. To force teachers to return, the Bellevue School District filed a temporary restraining order against the Bellevue Education Association. However, the Bellevue Superior Court denied the restraining order, allowing teachers to not work in person without an available vaccine. The Court believed there was little evidence that the Bellevue Education Association’s actions were indeed a work stoppage. 

As of Jan. 27, one day before the second hearing, the Bellevue Education Association made an agreement with the Bellevue School District. The Bellevue Education Association agreed for second graders to start on Jan. 26 and delay the start of kindergarteners and first graders until February. According to the Bellevue School District, second graders would meet this week in-person Tuesday and Thursday, using Wednesday as a remote learning day, and Friday being a no-school day. First graders would not begin in-person learning until Feb. 8 and 9, and kindergarteners on Feb. 11 and 12.

Despite this agreement, though, many teachers still voted on not returning to in-person education until a vaccine was present, and many substitute teachers continued teaching the second graders. Meanwhile, on Sunday, educators within the Bellevue School District held a car parade and rally, demanding better safety measures before the introduction of more students and teachers. The next hearing will be on Jan. 28, where parents, teachers, and students will learn what their futures will be regarding remote and in-person learning.