Saint Paul Teacher Strike

These past few weeks have been nothing short of wild. For many, it was midterms and spring break, and of course dreading the arrival of the Coronavirus. However, for teachers in Saint Paul, this time was especially stressful. The Saint Paul Teachers Union had long been in talks with the district to settle a new contract, which was not an easy task. Both sides were in serious disagreement with what should be in the contract and how much money should be allocated for things such as more mental health support staff, English Second Language teachers and translators.

After several months of stalemate discussion, it was clear the district would need to go on strike, something they haven’t done since 1946. Starting March 10th, all district teachers, support staff and some community members hit the pavement officially starting what would turn into a three day affair. Starting at 7am, the staff at Hamline Elementary would be out walking back and forth on Snelling Avenue with signs reading, “Strike” and “Honk If You Support Students!” Sometimes there would be chants “Hey hey ho ho, it’s for the kids we go and go!” Overall the attitude was passion for their jobs and their students. “We are here for the kids. We’re not here for the fame and the glory. We want to teach academics, social skills and emotions.” Said Kathleen Walsh, the Strike Captain and teacher at Hamline Elementary. “We are finding it more and more difficult because of kids coming in with trauma and distress. As a teacher, my training is not to handle these issues, so we need more mental health professionals to help kids regulate themselves and it feels like a losing battle.” This frustration runs deep among teachers who have felt as though the district was continually not meeting their needs. “The district is not prioritizing kids and families. They aren’t seeing what the issues are and giving them much needed resources.” Walsh noted. 

Sign used during the St. Paul Teachers Strike Evelyn Harrison

St. Paul teachers strike over contractual disagreements. Photo by Evelyn Harrison

As for outside support, many people are helping the teachers get out the message. “We’ve been in SPPS [Saint Paul Public Schools] for all three of our kids, 3rd 1st and prekindergarten. The teachers are amazing and always looking out for our kids. I know that I trust that they wouldn’t be out here if this was not critical to help our kids.” Said Theresa McGrath, a mother of three kids who all helped strike at Hamline Elementary. I tried to be there every morning, as my mom teaches in Saint Paul and it felt like I was helping her. Even though not everyone could take time out of their morning to stand on the sidewalk with us, many people showed support in other ways. Cars were constantly honking and waving, a gesture of thanks for what the staff were doing. Others would bring food for the employees, jumping out of their car to pass out granola bars and coffee jugs. One morning, a parent even brought an entire pan of warm cinnamon rolls! It was clear that most of the community was very thankful for the work that these people did and wanted to show them a kind gesture during a difficult time.

The Saint Paul Teachers Union came to a temporary deal Friday morning to get teachers back into the classroom, however students and staff are currently at home after Governor Walz shut down schools due to the Coronavirus.