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Published in Print: October 30, 2002, as Strike District Meets Standards, Ohio Says

Strike District Meets Standards, Ohio Says

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As a teachers' strike in Maple Heights, Ohio, entered its eighth week, schools remained open last week with substitutes at the helm.

The Ohio Department of Education determined this month that the 4,000-student district meets the state's minimum operating standards, despite complaints from parents and students that instruction wasn't taking place.

Eleven state officials conducted a one-day site evaluation of the Cleveland-area district, examining issues such as pupil-teacher ratios and whether minimum time requirements were being met for instruction.

The task force concluded that the school days taught by substitutes would count toward Ohio's 182-day school year requirement.

Meanwhile, in Minnesota, teachers went on strike Oct. 22 in the 3,150-student Red Wing district. A 16-day strike in International Falls was settled.

So far, a total of at least 5,000 teachers and staff members in at least 20 school districts across seven states have hit the picket lines, according to the National Education Association.

As negotiation continued in the Maple Heights district, reports emerged that substitutes were not telling students their real names because the district had told them they did not have to, according to Tom Jowhar, a labor-relations consultant for the Ohio Education Association.

"They make $165 [per day] of my money, the taxpayers' money, and they're not telling my children who they are?" Mr. Jowhar said. He added that parents have filed more than 250 complaints with schools, including charges that students were receiving lower grades and that teachers show movies.

Superintendent Henry Rish could not confirm the number of complaints, but said the report of substitutes' withholding their real names was exaggerated. He knew of only one substitute who decided to do that, and justifiably so, the superintendent said.

The Maple Heights Teachers Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, has a "scab list" posted on its Web site, which makes substitutes feel threatened, Mr. Rish said. "My stance on that is no one should come to work in a situation where they'll feel harassed and threatened," he said.

In an Oct. 11 letter, Ohio Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Roger C. Nehls said the district must provide a plan by this week to correct four areas: All substitutes must be licensed and teaching in their areas of expertise; special education students' needs must be met; classrooms must have enough materials and equipment; and middle and high school instruction must follow the district's curriculum.

"I think we're making progress on every one of them," Mr. Rish said.

'No Continuity'

But Mr. Jowhar of the teachers' union contests the state report's findings.

"No substantial education can take place, because there's no continuity," he said, referring to a practice by which substitutes are shuffled every five days to conform with state law on the maximum number of days a substitute can teach a class. ("Ohio District Shuffles Subs as Walkout Continues," Sept. 25, 2002.)

In the Red Wing, Minn., district, the teachers' union is demanding maintenance of the status quo in health-care benefits and a 3 percent increase for each year of a two-year contract, retroactive to last school year. The district's offer includes no salary increase for last year and a 3 percent increase for this school year, with a cap of $10,000 for family health- insurance benefits, said Superintendent Kelly Smith.

"This is unknown territory we're going through right now," said Sue Wolter, the president of Education Minnesota Red Wing, whose members have never gone on strike before and who are affiliated with both the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers.

In the 1,500-student International Falls district, officials were relieved that the walkout had ended. "I'm very glad that it's finished," said Superintendent Percy Lingen.

The strike started on Sept. 20 over issues of salaries and health insurance. Teachers will receive no raises for the 2001-02 school year and a 5.5 percent increase for this school year. They will also receive fully paid health insurance.

Vol. 22, Issue 9, Page 3

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