Decatur School Teaching Assistants On Strike
Teaching assistants and other aides went on strike at Decatur Public Schools Tuesday, and the school district has responded by suspending several programs.
The Decatur Federation of Teaching Assistants (DFTA) began picketing outside school buildings at 8 A.M., about a week after the last bargaining session with the district.
A video posted on the DFTA public Facebook page shower employees on the picket line outside a school building, with signs that read, “We do more than transport and corral students”, and “Lowest Paid = Highest Insurance Premiums”.
About 275 teaching assistants, LPN’s, hearing interpreters and hearing/vision technicians have been working without a current contract at Decatur Public Schools since the start of the school year in August.
A union rally was scheduled for Tuesday at noon. A previous rally on Monday afternoon brought in support from the Decatur teachers union and Illinois Federation of Teachers president Dan Montgomery.
Pastor Joe Bowman of Heartland Community Church in Decatur led the rally in prayer, and asked the gathering to pray for District 61 school superintendent Paul Fregeau and the school board.
“They’re not our enemies,” said Bowman in his invocation, which was recorded and published on the union’s public Facebook page. “God, we wrestle not against flesh and blood. We understand that this is the power of darkness that wants to come in and bring division, God. You’re not about division, you’re about unity. And we want unity in this community!”
Earlier in the day, superintendent Fregeau announced the suspension of several special education programs requiring the use of teaching assistants and other aides. They include pre-kindergarten, life skills, social/emotion development, essential skills and cross-cat alt programs. (A list of suspended programs is at the end of this article).
A video message from Fregeau on the school district website had a special word for the striking workers: “If you are a T-A, we welcome you back to programs that remain open.”
Also on Monday, Decatur school board president Beth Nolan and board member Regan Lewis held a news conference (video posted on the district website) to accuse DFTA President Paula Busboom of lying to her members about the district’s contract proposals.
In particular, Nolan and Lewis pushed back on the union’s contention that an optional health insurance plan with a lower premium but higher deductible was never brought up by the district in contract talks.
Lewis said that plan was the same one provided to teachers, administration and other district employees, was approved in July by a negotiation committee that includes a member of the DFTA’s negotiating team.
“So the fact is that Paula Busboom and DFTA leadership have known the specifics of our health insurance plan since July,” said Lewis. “Their claims that they just saw the plan last week are absolutely false”.
The last bargaining session between the Decatur school district and DFTA was held with a federal mediator on October 23. Lewis said DFTA turned down an invitation to hold a session last Sunday.
Both sides are now calling for talks to resume, with the union saying it “stands ready to bargain at any time, day or night” and board member Lewis saying that “the Board continues to be willing to meet when it appears there will be a positive resolution from a meeting”.
Here's a list of programs suspended due to the teaching assistants strike, according to school. Find more details at the Decatur Public Schools website:
All Pershing Early Learning Programs - All PreK classes (grant funded PFA and special education) at Pershing, RCC, Baum, Oak Grove
Parsons - All Life Skills classrooms
Enterprise - All Life Skills and hearing impaired program students
Muffley - Social/Emotional Development (SED) program
Hope - Essential Skills program
SEAP Program at Harris
Stephen Decatur - SED, Life Skills, Essential Skills
MacArthur - SED, Life Skills, Essential Skills and Cross-Cat Alt
Eisenhower - SED, Life Skills and Cross-Cat Alt