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ESD 113 Head Start educators seek some scheduling flexibility

TUMWATER (March 30, 2021) — The members of Federation of Head Start Employees, AFT Local 6153 are calling upon the administration of Capital Region ESD 113, covering Thurston and Grays Harbor counties, to honor Head Start’s mission of bringing working families out of poverty by keeping their own employees out of poverty.

Members of Head Start Employees, AFT 6153 who work at ESD 113 (pre-COVID photo by Anna-Marie Magdalena).

The school district has told employees that they must return to in-person work, regardless of employees’ caregiving needs or COVID-19 risk status. Even though there is still plenty of remote work to be done as they return to a hybrid model, the district is insisting that all work must be done at school sites. Working parents who cannot return full time because their own children are hybrid or fully remote must use leave without pay (LWOP) once their PTO runs out. Those at high risk would have to apply for unemployment. The district has relented under union pressure to allow one day per week remote work, but this would still leave working parents and high-risk individuals facing pay cuts of up to $2,000 by one estimate.

“I need to have the flexibility to work from home since my 10-year-old is only in a hybrid model two days a week,” said Jennifer Russell, a Local 6153 teacher (pictured here). “It is not an option for childcare or leaving him by himself. This allows me to go to my work two days a week, 4.75 hours a day but having to take leave the rest of the time. With the hours left in our school year, the district’s new plan means I would be on LWOP for roughly 100 hours for the year. My family depends on my pay to buy food and pay for gas to get my husband back and forth to work.”

The potential loss of pay exacerbates existing problems. Head Start teachers are consistently not paid a living wage. The average salary for a Head Start instructor in Washington is approximately $24,000 per year; many qualify for state and federal assistance programs. Being forced to reduce their salary further by using LWOP even when hybrid work is available highlights the gender disparities in the pandemic, which has seen women pushed out of the workforce in record numbers due to caregiving responsibilities.

“Working parents should not have to choose between a job and their children,” said AFT Washington President Karen Strickland. “We are calling on ESD 113 to provide more flexible scheduling as the governor’s mandate suggests be done when work is available remotely.”

The need for flexibility is temporary, as more childcare and in-person schooling options become available. The local is eager to return to in-person education once they know their children will be supported, too.

“One of my children is on an IEP (Individualized Education Program) and both are experiencing social emotional withdrawal and depression,” said Amanda Lucus, another teacher in the district. “ESD 113 is definitely not in this together with teachers and children.”

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