NILES — The days are drawing to a close for the Niles Education Association and the Niles Board of Education to reach an agreement on a new contract before the union goes on strike at midnight on Thursday.
In the event of a strike, the district has released an alternate learning plan.
School starts today with pupils and teachers in classrooms, but home learning could start on Thursday if an agreement is not reached.
“We have an obligation to our entire school community to make contingency plans in the event of a strike by our teachers on September 1,” Niles Board of Education Chairman Tony Perrone said.
Negotiating teams from both sides met with a federal mediator on Friday and were unable to reach an agreement. The last scheduled trading day is Wednesday, the same day the current contract, which took effect on September 1, 2019, is due to expire. If an agreement is not reached on Wednesday, the members of the NEA will go on strike from midnight Thursday.
The talks begin at 10 a.m. and have no scheduled end time. NEA spokeswoman Traci Kempe said union members will be able to vote immediately on Wednesday if a tentative agreement is reached.
The two sides began meeting in March. They began meeting with a federal mediator on August 1, the first authorized date.
According to an unfair labor practice charge filed last week by the NEA with the State Employee Relations Commission, the first agreement appears to have been canceled due to a problem some teachers had with the section of contract emergency leave.
The prosecution alleges members of the board’s bargaining team violated Ohio’s revised code when they spoke to teachers and told them there was more money to be had, but the the NEA’s negotiating team simply hadn’t asked for it.
NEA claims that it was because of these communications that the second tentative agreement was rejected.
ALTERNATIVE LEARNING PROGRAM
The Niles City School District released an “Interim Learning Agreement,” which details how the school will continue if a strike were to begin.
The plan confirms that school will go on as usual on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
On Wednesday, students in kindergarten through fifth grade will receive take-home learning kits. The district has provided a recommended daily schedule that runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The schedule explains the homework chosen to serve as review for the beginning of the school year. “Students should be able to complete the work with only moderate guidance and support needed,” it reads. Completed assignments must be returned the next school day in person.
The plan also provides tips for successful home learning, which includes establishing a routine early on, choosing a good learning environment, connecting with Niles staff and getting in touch with students at the beginning and end of each day.
Students in grades six through 12 will receive instruction through Edmentum, an online learning platform designed to allow students to work at their own pace with a curriculum aligned with state standards.
“Our education community has extensive experience with students learning at home,” reads the alternative learning plan.
Students with special needs will work online, the plan notes. Once all Niles students return to in-person school, opportunities for specially designed additional instruction and related services will be offered after school and during the summer as needed.
TCTC students will not be affected by the strike.
The plan states that students are still required to complete their school work in the event of a strike. Ohio’s revised code requires students to attend school and a strike is not an acceptable excuse for an absence. The district will continue to monitor attendance if learning is moved online.
Students who need computers will receive them during school days this week ahead of the potential strike.
According to the plan, the district obtained full-time replacements who were selected. District administrators and staff will also be available to assist you.
At a meeting on August 15, the school board gave Superintendent Ann Marie Thigpen the opportunity to enter into a contract with Huffmasters, a strike safety company. Thigpen said Huffmaster advertised substitute teachers who all met state law requirements for substitute teachers in Ohio public schools. Huffmaster will provide security personnel in the event of a strike.
In a press release from NEA, the union questions the board’s decision to allow the Michigan-based company to provide personnel services. He uploads several Ohio media articles that highlight issues other schools have had with the company.
“The board is wasting taxpayers’ money on a union-busting security firm that could have satisfied our contract,” NEA President Tracy Ledsome said. “Niles’ parents and members of the community should be outraged that the council is even considering hiring them.”
EXTRA-CURRICULAR AND SCHOOL SERVICES
The alternative learning plan says sports will continue in the event of a strike, but after-school activities will not. Indeed, while many coaches are not teachers and therefore would not strike, almost all club advisers are teachers.
If a game or practice needs to be canceled or postponed, players and parents will be contacted by the Sporting Director.
Several upcoming events could also be impacted. An open house for elementary and middle schools in Niles is scheduled for Thursday, but will be postponed to a later date in the event of a strike.
If the strike continues through September 6, the district will “do everything possible” to reschedule the band night and if it continues through September 9, the senior night will be postponed.
The district has pledged to continue providing lunch to students during a strike. All students will receive two days of take-out meals on Wednesdays and three days will be distributed from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on September 7 at 381 Robbins Ave. and 2666 Robbins Ave.