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Teachers walk out

Eli Schwartz
JR union representative and teacher Rebecca Bradshaw-Smith rallies teachers at the March 8 demonstration. The Washington Teachers’ Union is pushing for an updated contract to provide teachers with better working conditions.

On March 8, teachers from multiple DCPS schools including Jackson-Reed, Alice Deal Middle School, Janney Elementary School, and Murch Elementary School, met at Nebraska Avenue and Chesapeake Street at 3:30 pm. The teachers staged a rally in response to failed contract negotiations, hoping to receive a contract that would include fair pay, ensure safe and quality working conditions, and provide proper student resources.

Currently, all DCPS teachers are working under an expired contract. Joined by Ward 3 DC Council Member Matt Frumin, two State Board of Education members, Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU) President Jacqueline Pogue-Lyons, and WTU Vice President Regina Bell, the teachers protested expired contracts and prolonged negotiations. Some chants heard at the protest included “we want a contract that is just and fair, treat us and our children with love and care,” and “teachers and families must unite, education is a right.” 

In an interview before the rally, Jackson-Reed’s WTU building representative, Rebecca Bradshaw-Smith said, “we want a contract that is fair, not just to us but also to our students,” and “we want to try to get a contract that is equitable, for everybody across the board.” She noted that teachers need respect, and are currently not being treated with it.

Earlier in the month, after much hard work, WTU representatives were given a meeting time with DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee. This meeting was scheduled for 5 am, however Chancellor Ferebee failed to attend. Since the event, there’s been heated debate over who proposed this timing, with DCPS denying involvement in the decision. Outraged, teachers of the union tried harder to get another meeting, and the Chancellor once again did not attend. This made many teachers feel disrespected by Ferebee’s refusal to come to the negotiating table. 

TEACHERS UNITED – Jackson-Reed and Alice Deal teachers meet to protest for a new contract.

In November of 2022, the most recent contract was put in place after three and a half years of negotiations. That contract ended on September 30, 2023. “We knew that our contract ended the following year, so we worked, and worked, begged, and begged to extend it. The District and DCPS refused to,” said Union President Jacqueline Pogue-Lyons. Since then the teachers have been working under an expired contract. Pogue-Lyons added that teachers are extremely upset because they consistently have to wait years for new contracts. She also discussed at the rally that WTU believes that the slow process  in re-negotiating new contracts is one reason why DCPS schools are losing teachers. “We are tired of our contracts being delayed [and] long overdue.” “We’re asking for things we feel are good for students, and we’re asking for things that will improve working and learning conditions for students and teachers.”

JR Social Studies teacher Margaret Pierce was in attendance, and she pointed out the issue of extremely large class sizes that create high workloads, something the WTU is fighting to change in a new contract. Pierce teaches 217 students. “It’s hard to give detailed feedback to every one of them. Class sizes over 36 shouldn’t exist, yet I have classes of 38. Contract negotiations are how we can get better resources for ourselves and our students,” she said.  

Safety is also a significant concern for teachers in a new contract. WTU’s Safe Schools website states, “In this contract, teachers are focusing on sustained, specific support to help make the entire school system safer and more responsive to student needs.” Additionally, Pogue-Lyons reflected on WTU’s requested actions “for safety, because we’re concerned about the violence that we’re seeing in schools.” 

Not only are the teachers at Jackson-Reed frustrated with the lack of contract updates and negotiations, but teachers throughout all DCPS schools as well. Educators are fighting back to make sure their voices are heard. So far, WTU’s demands have not been satisfied, but the sentiment at this rally was that they will not quit until their demands are met.

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Javier Thompson, Junior Editor
Alice Patterson, Junior Editor
Sonja Boser
Sonja Boser, Junior Editor
Eli Schwartz, Assistant Director of Art and Design
  • 2022-23: Senior Photo Editor
  • 2023-24: Assistant Director of Art and Design
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