This morning in Columbus, Ohio, a mere two days before the beginning of the school year, thousands of teachers have gone on strike, which could possibly lead to virtual learning for students as September approaches. While the nationwide teacher shortage persists, with educators quitting due to low salaries and burnout following the pandemic, this Ohio protest concerns the rights of the students more than the teachers.
The classroom conditions of Columbus schools, with over 47,000 students attending kindergarten through 12th grade in this large district, have been deemed unacceptable by 94% of the teacher’s union. The Columbus Education Association union shared their extreme disapproval of the Columbus City Schools’ bare-minimum contract for this coming school year, with an unprecedented and overwhelming rejection of the contract from over 4,000 teachers. Details of the contract shared with multiple sources outline how the district denied the requests of teachers to add in stipulations that would “guarantee Columbus students basics like air conditioning, appropriate class sizes, and full-time art, music, and P.E. teachers in elementary schools.”
With classrooms becoming increasingly crowded as teachers quit and entire classes are forced to merge together, Columbus teachers have had enough of complying to the demands of the school board, considering that all contractual decisions made by the board directly affect their own livelihood and ability to educate developing minds successfully. Over the past ten years, as technology has rapidly developed and more jobs in the field of STEM have become available, the elementary through high school curriculum has shifted away from the arts, primarily funneling funding into math and science programs. While this benefits budding engineers and software developers, children who want to follow their musical and artistic passions are simply not given the opportunity due to financial cuts that disproportionately affect these programs.
Nationwide heatwaves have also exacerbated the need for air conditioning in schools, with the Columbus School District only updating their HVAC systems in 13 school buildings across the entire district, necessitating teachers to add this concern to their list of reasons for striking. Poor teaching conditions have prompted educators to ask for higher salaries, requesting an 8% pay raise and only being granted “raises of 3% annually for three years and $2,000 per [Columbus Education Association] member in retention and recruitment bonuses.” Currently, if the strike continues and the Columbus Board of Education does not meet the demands of the deserving teachers, it looks as if almost 50,000 Ohio students will begin this year virtually, taught only by substitutes and the district’s own administrators.