Bellevue School District moving forward with plan to bring some students back despite teachers' vote

On Tuesday night, members of the Bellevue Education Association overwhelmingly voted to pause expanding in-person learning proposed by the district, a spokesperson with Washington Education Association said in a release.

"We stand by our commitment to providing in-person services to our students in safe ways that support individual needs," said Allison Snow, Bellevue Education Association President Allison Snow said in the WEA statement. "Nobody wants to be back in the classroom more than educators, but only when it’s safe."

BEA educators voted against moving forward expanding in-person learning until a COVID-19 vaccine is more readily available to all educators. Current in-person and virtual classes will continue pending an announcement from the district by Wednesday, approving the expansion pause.

"We have a vaccine on the horizon and we need to use every protection possible to keep our students, staff, and community safe," Snow said in the WEA statement. "It doesn’t make sense to return more students and staff to school buildings without taking every measure we can, which includes offering vaccines to educators."

The Bellevue School District on Wednesday told Q13 News that it will move forward with bringing back 770 2nd graders on Thursday. Substitute teachers and certified administrators would be used, the district said.

Read the district's full statement below:

We are disappointed to hear that our educators’ union, the Bellevue Education Association, is breaking our agreement to shift and support our second-grade students to in-person learning on Thursday. 

To our eager second graders and families: we will see you in classrooms tomorrow.  We will not pause our long-negotiated plan to return students to classrooms. If educators choose to not show up and teach and fail to meet their professional responsibilities, we will have substitute teachers, administrators and other qualified professionals ready and able to help ease students back in the routine of attending school in person with their classmates. 

To all our students and families: We understand that as part of BEA’s action, none of our educators will be providing instruction for our nearly 20,000 students on Thursday and Friday. That includes our remote learning, all grades. This news is incredibly frustrating, as it only serves to punish our students by taking away their daily routines during these already challenging times.  

To our educators: your safety has been at the forefront of every conversation we have had in the last ten months with BEA leadership. We have an agreement, reached in November, to return to buildings. Our buildings are ready. We have a plan in place that has proven to be effective. Since September, we have served almost 800 students in person, with zero in-building COVID-19 transmission. Our protocols are working. Other school districts are bringing their youngest learners – the ones least likely to contract COVID or transmit it – with success. We can too. 

We know that vaccines are here, and we are excited about the news that educators might get them earlier than we first expected. But we should not delay our plan to return K-2 to school between Thursday, Jan. 21 and Feb. 1. We have the safety protocols in place, and we need to roll out in-person school to these students now. They need us to be in buildings, to welcome them back and help them transition to in- person learning. Many of these students have never set foot in one of our classrooms, most have never met their teacher in person. 

We sincerely hope BEA and its members, our educators, will reconsider breaking the agreement with our district, honoring their professional and legal obligations. Our students need us -- the adults in our system -- to work together on their behalf to do what is right. And that is to be present and ready to educate on Thursday.

Many parents in the Bellevue School District grow frustrated over the last-minute decision by teachers to return some students back to classrooms this week. 

Valeri Makam said she moved her family to Bellevue because of the schools.

"We feel lucky to be able to do that so it’s very disheartening to know how to help anymore we feel very helpless," Makam said.

The mother of two has a 3rd grader who attends Somerset Elementary and has been hoping for her son to go back in person before summer.

But now many parents are confused over whether or not that will actually happen with the teacher’s union meeting Tuesday about striking when it comes to teaching in person.

"All I know is that there is a teacher union that is advocating for certain things without a lot of data to back up their claims and to really tell us what their challenges are, that’s what we as parents need to know so we can help solve the problem," Makam said.

First graders are scheduled to return on Monday and kindergarteners scheduled Feb. 1.

"I personally reached out to my school to say I am here to support you in any way," Makam said.

The Bellevue mom said she’s cut back her work hours, even volunteered to become a substitute teacher to be a part of the solution.

Makam said the most frustrating part for her has been the lack of communication.

"To do these things in vacuums is not going to work we need to build trust I think that’s the part that is so challenging let’s trust each other and figure out how to solve the problems," Makam said.

Makam said other districts have shown they can safely reopen with health measures in place. She says many parents on the Eastside are willing to go above and beyond to help teachers with resources.

"Let’s figure that out, Bellevue passed a $675 million bond what is the price tag to get our kids back," she said.

Union members with the Bellevue Education Association were not available for interviews prior to their 4:30 meeting. But a spokesperson for the Washington Education Association says teachers are concerned about a number of things including the community spread of COVID 19 and the fact that many teachers may want to wait for the vaccine.

On Monday the state announced changes to its vaccine rules expediting teachers in the process. They said all educators can now get the vaccine at the same time. But the big question still remains when will that happen.

The district said they’ve been serving 800 special education students since September with zero transmission at their schools. They believe they have the mechanisms in place to welcome elementary school kids back safely.