All public schools in Brookline, Massachusetts, were closed Monday as educators went on strike, despite a last-minute emergency negotiating session with a mediator.
The Brookline School Committee and the Brookline Educators Union were not able to come to an agreement over the weekend, prompting the district to make the "difficult decision" to close all schools Sunday. The key sticking points were wages, teacher diversity and the amount of preparation time teachers get during the school day.
"There will simply not be the staffing capacity to operate all schools safely, nor can PSB provide the structured education required by the state for the day to legally count as a school," Superintendent Dr. Linus Guillory said in a statement posted online Sunday.
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Striking teachers and picket signs replaced school buses and students outside Brookline High School Monday morning. About 900 teachers from nine schools gathered outside of all the public school district buildings Monday to walk the picket line.
Negotiations were expected to continue Monday afternoon; school plans for Tuesday were expected to be announce by 6 a.m.
"It's been really hard," school psychologist Robin Toback said. "You know, we don't want to be out here today. We'd much rather be doing our jobs."
Brookline public school teachers announced plans to strike after mediators were not able to help the union and the school committee reach an agreement on parts of their contract over the weekend.
The Brookline School Committee released a statement Monday saying it was "profoundly saddened" that schools were closed, saying that the body had asked teachers on Sunday not to strike.
"We again call on the BEU to cease and desist all strike activity so that we can focus our joint efforts on bargaining toward successful resolution. Brookline students must not be the victims of this situation any longer than they already have," the statement said.
In its statement calling on union members to stop their strike, the school committee shamed teachers for forcing schools to close Monday, saying in part, "our most vulnerable learners, including students in special education and those with disabilities, are disproportionately impacted by school closures."
"No one strikes unless they've tried everything else," Brookline Educators Union President Jessica Wender-Shubow countered Monday, as teachers called for change outside of the district's school buildings.
“More time to get work done, more time to be with students, obviously with inflation, we’re talking about cost-of-living increases, and we have been met with really stonewalling tactics,” said Eric Schiff, a Brookline High guidance counselor and negotiations chair for the Brookline Educators Union.
The Brookline Educators Union acknowledges that the strike is illegal under state law, but they felt it was important to go through with it anyway.
"BEU (Brookline Educators Union) would rather reach an agreement, but last night's discussions made it impossible for us to accept," Wender-Shubow told NBC10 Boston on Sunday.
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According to the BEU, teachers in the district have been working without a contract for the last three school years and are "fed up" with the Brookline School Committee and its approach to bargaining.
Brookline High School English teacher Zack Broken Rope said he can't afford to live in the community where he teaches. He said he has had to resort to living out of his car for a period of months because he couldn't afford rent.
"I've been a teacher for 10 years and in that time I've never not had to work at least one or two part time jobs," Broken Rope said. "Teaching is a career worth fighting for and our kids are worth fighting for. And I want my students to see that we're willing to put ourselves on the line when it matters."
The Norfolk County Superior Court issued a preliminary injunction Friday against the BEU, prohibiting them from striking or threatening to strike. The Court stated that if the union were to strike, “[s]erious and irreparable harm will occur to the Town, the students and their caretakers, and the public welfare.”
"You’ve left us no other options because you’re refusing to show any seriousness about looking at what we need you to look at," Wender-Shubow said. "The strike is all that’s left.”
The superintendent said he understands the Brookline community will have many questions and reiterated this was not an easy decision for anyone.
"I also understand that this juncture in negotiations is challenging and frustrating for all, and that closing schools on Monday will be extremely difficult for students, caregivers, staff, and our community," Guillory said. "Please know that the mediator is continuing to facilitate discussions to settle the contracts. The School Committee and PSB leadership will be working through Monday’s mediation session, and are determined to come to an agreement."
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More negotiations are scheduled to take place Monday. Guillory promised an announcement on any additional school closures would occur no later than 6 a.m. Tuesday.
While the negotiations continue, students are hopeful it will be over soon.
"Having a day off is kind of fun but I also miss being in school and learning," said seventh grader Hugh Bolinger.
If no deal is reached Monday night, teachers say they have even bigger plans for Tuesday; they're planning a rally where they say teachers from other districts will join them in solidarity.
Union members rallied Saturday morning at Brookline Town Hall, saying in a statement, "The inexcusable delays in settling contracts and the complete unwillingness to even talk about issues that have such an impact on students and the quality of education that we provide them have brought us to a point where Brookline educators must take bold action."
"The educators have been saying for months, actually for years, even before COVID, we have an emergency in these buildings," Wender-Shubow said. "We need more staff of color, we need them to stay, we need to show them the respect that will keep them in the district and we have ideas and you are not interested in working with us."
Students say this is a busy time of year when every day counts.
“It would be disruptive, a lot of stuff going on in school, there’s MCAS coming up,” said student Zac Roffman.
“Sure we’ll get behind on certain assignments,” said student Owen Bergstein. “And we have a few tests this week but it’s for a really good cause and I think that means a lot.”