ANDERSON — All Anderson Community Schools will be closed Wednesday and students will not participate in eLearning, the school district announced.
A news release from the school district said the decision to close "was due to 15%-20% of teachers engaging in an illegal concerted job action by calling off work today."
Anderson students took classes virtually last Friday as negotiations continue with teachers over a new contract.
“We are disappointed that these teachers are choosing to do this as it hurts our parents and students,” Superintendent Dr. Joe Cronk said in a statement. “We are appreciative of the vast majority of staff that have continued coming to work as we continue the bargaining process with the Anderson Federation of Teachers (AFT).”
AFT president Randy Harrison responded to Cronk's statement in one of his own saying:
There has been no official "directive" given out of the AFT office promoting what has been labeled the "teacher call-offs". These educators and support staff are utilizing their legally bargained benefit days to secure these absences which is well within their purview. If the AFT were to officially call for a job action/work stoppage, we would engage more than 15%-20% of our membership. The district's lock-out is an attempt to discredit our educators and support staff that already feel devalued. The fact that the district cannot cover a staff shortage of 15%-20%, due to absences (especially during a pandemic and heading into flu season), only reflects their incompetence at being able to manage the school district.
Harrison also told WRTV's Kelsey Anderson that Wednesday's teacher shortage was not a push by the union for teachers to not show up.
Instead, Harrison said it was a decision teachers in the district made on their own.
Harrison added that he fears the district will lose good teachers if they cannot get a reasonable wage.
A mediator will meet with teachers union officials and the district on Thursday, something that has not happened in more than 20 years, he said.
According to Harrison, Anderson Community Schools sent union representatives an email with what they said was their final offer on Oct. 22. He said union representatives did not approve of the offer because the wage increase included would not offset new insurance premiums.
District officials sent a new offer on Oct. 27 that Harrison said still did not offset the insurance premiums. He said about one-third of teachers at a union meeting that day raised their hands when asked if they would think about finding another school district if their wages did not increase.
Parents concerned about impact on students
Haylee Hemp, an ACS parent, told WRTV the back and forth regarding teacher contract negotiations is having a negative impact on her son's learning time.
"I've contacted the Indiana Department of Education, I've contacted the people who deal with IEPs," Hemp said. She's reaching out to those people and more because she says she doesn't know where to turn regarding the missed class time.
School and having the resources her son needs while there is especially important because he has dyslexia. Because of the teacher absences and shortage, she doesn't believe he's been getting what he needs. She says this was confirmed to her after students were forced to do an eLearning day last Friday.
"I started getting messages from other people, I'm not going to say who, stating they were puling support staff, para educators, specials (teachers) like P.E. and art, reading specialists to cover teacher absences," she said. "When they pull paras to other classrooms to sub or a reading specialist, that leaves the IEP students without the resources they need."
As contract negotiations continue, Hemp believes the issues fall squarely on the district.
"They need to do the right thing and they need to step up not only for the teachers but the students in the community especially for the kids with IEP," Hemp said.
An ACS spokesperson told WRTV they are checking on Hemp's concerns that other staff members were used as substitutes on Tuesday.
The state's deadline for collective bargaining to be complete is Nov. 15.