Potential District 211 teacher strike puts final exam dates, extracurricular events in doubt

Courtesy of Derek Fivelson

District 211 teachers picket outside the administration building the week of November 26. Contract negotiations between the Board and Union have stalled, leading to questions about what comes next as students head into finals week.

Update: The Board and the Union reached a tentative agreement on Monday, December 17, and the District ratified the contract at its board meeting on January 17.

Final exams may be pushed back and students may miss out on athletic competitions if District 211 teachers go on strike next week as a result of stalled contract negotiations between the Teachers’ Union and the Board of Education.

Final exams are currently scheduled to begin Wednesday, Dec. 19 and would be delayed until after break only if a strike would cause students to miss two or more days of exams. District 211 Superintendent Dr. Daniel Cates said, “If final exams are missed on the first day, the schedule would be adjusted so that finals can be completed over a two-day span. If finals are missed on all days, students would have to take their exams after winter break.”

District 211 teachers have been working without a contract since June 30, 2018, and through at least 16 negotiating sessions, the two sides have not been able to reach an agreement.

President of the Northwest Suburban Teachers’ Union Local 1211 and Conant social studies department chair John Braglia said the Union plans to deliver a vote of ‘no confidence’ to the Board at the regularly scheduled Board of Education meeting tonight. At the board meeting, he also plans to announce the day teachers would go on strike, which is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 18.

While much of the public focus has been on salary changes in the contract, Braglia said other factors are involved, including reducing the number of students on each counselor’s load, increasing social worker and administrative support, improving the driver’s education program, and providing additional support for department chairs.

Braglia said, “The salary part is not a big deal because we’re asking for below cost of living. So the cost of living right now is at 2.4 [percent], and we’re asking for numbers less than that.”

Jenna McDonald, ‘19, said she understands the Union’s cause. “Teachers put in all this hard work and dedication to making sure we have the best education, and I know our district is one of the best districts, maybe in Illinois. I think they should get what they deserve,” she said.

The district’s position is that their Nov. 15 contract proposal is reasonable for both sides. Cates said, “The Board continues to believe that the offer generously recognizes the quality work of our staff members while also fulfilling the Board’s fiscal responsibility to the local community.”

Shumiza Khan, ‘19, said she doesn’t want a teacher strike. “Winter break is kind of like summer break. When you come back, you want to start new classes and you want a fresh start,” she said. “If you come back and you’re doing the same material, kids are not going to be interested. They’re not going to try as hard.”

In the event of finals being pushed back, Kayley Stoner, ‘19, said, “I think it’s going to be a mess because [in the past], when we did have finals [after break], we had that week to review, but if they’re not going to give us that week to review, people are not going to do well as they could possibly do because they’re going to forget it over break.”

In addition to requiring an adjustment to the final exam schedule, a teacher strike would mean that all extracurricular events, including athletic events and activities, would be canceled until an agreement is reached. Cates said that if necessary, these cancellations would apply into winter break, as well.

Head girls’ gymnastics coach and English teacher Anthony Avella said that in the event of an extended teacher’s strike, his team would have to miss a competition in early January. He compared what is happening in District 211 to a recent teachers’ strike in a nearby district. “Actually, this happened to Geneva High School last week,” Avella said. “They were supposed to come to our school to compete and they didn’t. We kept competing, but they just didn’t show up. I would imagine that would be a similar fate for us if that were to happen.”

Conant Athletic Director John Kane said, “We would try to make up any cancelled contests. This is a very important part of all of our winter sports season and academic school year, so I am hoping that the contract is resolved and our Conant family is not impacted.”

Head boys’ swim coach and Spanish teacher Brian Drenth expressed the need for flexibility. “If there were a strike and the strike finishes, then everything starts from where it was before,” he said. “You try to tweak whatever you lost. As far as practice time, you lost some practice time. The season’s not going to be extended for District 211.”

While some Conant students have speculated about the possibility of graduation dates and locations being moved in the event of of a strike, these changes appear unlikely. Cates said, “I do not believe that the graduation dates in May will be impacted by a potential teacher strike.”

For students who are worried about being impacted by these contract negotiations, both Cates and Braglia have said they hope for a resolution. “The Board and our administration are doing all we can to resolve the impasse and keep our schools open,” Cates said.

Braglia said this strike is not desired. “Your teachers do not want to go on strike,” he said. “Their most important focus in their professional careers are the students that they teach and the families that they serve.”

Editor’s Note: This article originally stated that, according to the Illinois Education Labor Board, the first day teachers would be allowed to go on strike is December 18. The earliest possible date is actually December 17.

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