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Parents express support for Akron teachers as strike looms

 Akron Public Schools headquarters in Downtown Akron.
Ryan Loew
/
Ideastream Public Media
Akron Public Schools headquarters in Downtown Akron.

Akron parents are voicing support for Akron Public Schools teachers and concern about their children’s education, ahead of a potential strike set for Monday.

If the strike goes through, the school district will likely continue with an online learning model. The negotiating teams for both the administration and the Akron Education Association couldn’t come to an agreement after meeting for six hours Thursday, and will meet again Saturday morning.

Teresa Ridgeway and Jermaine Holley, parents of three APS students, said they won’t be crossing the picket line, even a digital one, if that happens.

I will not be logging my children on the computer. They will not be with a stranger,” Ridgeway said. “ They will not be with anybody that is not their teacher. Our children have teachers. They have wonderful teachers and they can resume learning when the teachers are able to resume teaching."

When a teachers strike occurred in Columbus in 2022, only half of students ended up logging on to class the first day of the strike.

Ridgeway said school administration is not taking teacher and parent concerns seriously regarding student misbehavior, including fights and other interruptions to the school day. She says that disruption means teachers can’t focus on teaching, and Holley said their two oldest children are even afraid to go to the bathroom due to worries about fights and other misbehavior occurring there.

"And I think the problem that we have is that when we are not giving consequences to these children for their actions, we are sending the message to the children and their parents that, you know, that there's tolerance and acceptance of that type of behavior," Ridgeway said.

Lack of discipline for students is a concern shared by the teachers’ union, while teacher pay has been a sticking point with school administration in negotiations, in addition to how the district defines teacher assaults.

Ridgeway, who works in the field of early childhood mental health consulting, works through childcare programs with children who are struggling with behavioral issues - often who are dealing with trauma and other struggles at home.

"The work that I do all day long is just absolutely being undone because we've sat here and preached to these parents about consistency and how consequences and follow-through are so important in changing behavior," she said. "And then they get through the school doors (at APS) and it's basically just a free for all,"

Kim Trowbridge, the mother of a senior at Ellet High School and a volleyball coach at that school, said student misbehavior has gotten worse over the years she’s sent her children to school at Akron Public Schools. She said it takes a toll psychologically on students. She recalled her daughter’s fear during a large fight at Ellet recently.

“She was sitting in the office watching the police pretty much swarm the building from the front,” Trowbridge said.

Trowbridge also said she wasn’t excited about online learning happening during a potential strike.

“I'm not really comfortable with her, you know, crossing a picket line per se, and going into the school without professionals there who are used to classroom management, classroom discipline, lesson plans, things like that,” she said.

Brittany Staubs, another parent of three Akron Public Schools students, said classroom periods are being wasted due to a small percentage of students causing disruptions.

She said once contract negotiations conclude, parents and community members’ support shouldn’t end for teachers and students.

“I think that the community and parents and students have to keep standing up for what is right and holding the district accountable for implementing what is supposed to be implemented in these schools,” she said.

Mark Williamson, Akron Public Schools’ spokesperson, declined to respond directly to the parents’ concerns.

“As we are in the middle of federal mediation, we are not offering public comments that might have an impact on the process at this critical point,” he said.

Still, the school district has previously said it was working to address safety concerns in the schools, starting with external security measures like new metal-detectors, as well as some new programming meant to address students’ behavioral and emotional issues.

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Conor Morris covers education in Northeast Ohio.