The Seattle Education Association voted Tuesday afternoon to suspend its strike and return to classrooms starting Wednesday.
The vote came after Seattle Public Schools earlier announced a tentative, three-year contract agreement with the educators’ union amid a strike that delayed the start of the school year by five days as they negotiated over improvements to classroom sizes, pay and health services.
“Our strike shows the power that educators and community have when we unite and call for what our students need,” said SEA president Jennifer Matter. “We should all be proud of what we’ve accomplished here for our students and our schools.”
The five days students missed will need to be made up during the school year, the district said in a statement.
“We are thrilled to welcome students and educators back into our classrooms to start this new school year. We are excited to engage fully in our mission – our moral imperative – of high-quality teaching and learning,” said Superintendent Brent Jones.
The strike began Wednesday, which was scheduled as the first day of school for about 50,000 students in the Seattle school district.
The action came as schools around the country face shortages of teachers, who are increasingly voicing frustration at being underpaid and underappreciated, teaching in crowded classrooms and in challenging conditions made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic.
In Seattle, educators went on strike to demand more support for students, including interpretation and translation services for those receiving multilingual education, and improved special education staffing ratios, according to the Seattle Education Association, which represents about 6,000 employees.
“We’re educators. We don’t have lots of experience with striking. It’s not what we want to be doing. We want to be in our schools with our students,” teacher Ellen Santarelli said in a Facebook video. “However, to get what our students need … we are willing to go outside of our comfort zones – thousands of steps outside of our comfort zones.”
The union also advocated for higher wages and more support and controls to prevent educator burnout, including capping some class sizes.
Details of the agreement won’t be released until it is ratified, but the SEA said the contract maintains Special Education ratios and improves them in some areas, adds baseline mental health staffing in all schools and raises pay every year.
The vote to ratify the tentative agreement will take place later this week, the union said.
Educators were on the picket lines for days, holding up signs that read “make mental health a priority,” “fund essential supports,” and “students should be able to see a nurse any schoolday.”
Students did not go to school Tuesday at another district in Washington state – the Ridgefield School District – as bargaining teams continue monthslong negotiations.
Ridgefield teachers went on strike Friday, calling for more mental health supports, improvements for special education students and a better program for student interventions at the district, which enrolls about 3,850 students near the Oregon border.
They joined thousands of other educators around the country who in recent weeks have also taken to the picket lines to negotiate for better contracts and improved classroom conditions.
Last week, another Washington state public school district – the Kent School District – ended talks that had similarly delayed the academic year since getting underway in July.
Teachers in Kent, represented by the Kent Education Association, ended their strike after reaching an agreement with the school district.
Two weeks prior, a Columbus, Ohio, teacher’s union ended a dayslong strike over classroom conditions and teacher pay after reaching an agreement, which included guarantees that classrooms will be climate controlled by the beginning of the 2025-2026 academic year, as well as a reduction in class sizes.
Teachers at Ohio’s largest school district had complained that students in some cases had to learn in classrooms with no functional air conditioning.
CNN’s Chris Boyette and Jennifer Henderson contributed to this report.