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Safety Demands For In-Person Classes At Center Of Gahanna Teachers Strike

Gahanna-Jefferson teachers picket on Tuesday morning.
Debbie Holmes
Gahanna-Jefferson teachers picket on Tuesday morning.

Remote learning continues for Gahanna-Jefferson School District students while their teachers strike over a contract dispute on how to safely return students to the classroom, while allowing others to remain online during the pandemic.

Gahanna-Jefferson public school teachers took up protest signs early Tuesday morningafter contract negotiations with the district broke down late Monday night, and the union voted to authorize a strike.

“It’s about fighting for the safety and equity of our students,” says Betsy Baker, spokeswoman for the Gahanna Jefferson Education Association (GJEA). “We want to make sure that we have a back-to-school model that sets them up for success.”

GJEA represents 572 teachers across the district. Their contract expired June 30, but Baker says negotiations started back in March. 

Steve Barrett, superintendent of Gahanna Jefferson Schools, wrote in a statement that the administration is "deeply disappointed, as our district leaders have presented multiple options for compromise that would assure continuity of learning and create an equitable learning environment for all students.”

The district had sought court action to block the strike, but a judge threw out that request.

Both the teachers union and Gahanna school officials have disagreed over what types of safety protocols are necessary to return students to the classroom. Like many Central Ohio districts this semester, Gahanna-Jefferson schools have operated so far in a distance learning model.

“We want to make sure that our students are in the proper learning environment,” Baker says. “There’s been some safety concerns. There’s been some equity issues in the sense of, we don’t want any learner to feel like they’re just a camera in the back of the room.”

Earlier this week, Columbus City Schools, the state's largest public school district, pushed back to November its plan to partially resume in-person classes for grades K-8. The Columbus Education Association had raised concerns last month after the district released its proposal without finalizing negotiations with the union.

Gahanna-Jefferson Schools says that during the strike it will use other district teachers and substitutes from the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio (ESC). 

“We know it’s difficult,” Baker says. “It’s been difficult on all of us, and this was not a decision that came lightly. It is not something that happened overnight. There were hours and hours and hours put in at the negotiations table with our membership.”

Baker says the focus needs to be on what is best for each student.

“We want them to feel like they have a teacher that is devoted to their learning, that is dedicated to their learning,” Baker says. “And that’s what every student deserves.”

Debbie Holmes has worked at WOSU News since 2009. She has hosted All Things Considered, since May 2021. Prior to that she was the host of Morning Edition and a reporter.