Writer and professor Shannon Gibney is on sabbatical this year, so when Minneapolis Public Schools teachers and education staff at her children’s school went on strike Monday, she was able to watch her kids at home.
“My schedule is more flexible than a lot of my friends who are parents,” said Gibney.
On the first day of the strike, as Gibney’s two children settled into the day off at their home in Powderhorn Park, she received a call from friends who asked if their kids could come over for a daycare playdate. Soon came a text from another parent.
“I was like, ‘Yes! The more the merrier,’” said Gibney.
This scene played out across the district as guardians scrambled to find daycare on day one of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and Education Support Professionals Union’s education staff strike for things like better wages for support staff and more mental health resources for students.
The Minneapolis Public Schools’ position on many of the demands from the union is that the district does not have enough money to fund pay increases or to increase staff.
Gibney was one of many parents who started the day by picketing, bringing her children along to support their teachers and learn more about labor organizing.
Many of those parents took the day off as a show of solidarity for the teachers on the first day of the strike. Those parents aren’t going to take off more days of work as the strike continues, said Gibney – meaning the daycare situation is going to be more widespread and perhaps more dire by day two and beyond.
But, on day one, for families like Gibney’s who support the strike, it was a day of mutual support, with parents helping each other with daycare and supporting the teachers they adore.
“It really does feel like a community thing. Like we’re all tied together in this, for better and worse. We need to support each other and figure it out,” said Gibney.
That goes for students, too, said Gibney, who spoke with them about the importance of showing people in their community, people who matter to them, that they care. And that workers need to be paid a fair wage.
“When the teachers come back, hopefully, they’ll come back refreshed,” said 12-year-old Boisey Corvah, Gibney’s son who attends Anderson Middle School.
“I think (the strike is) good,” said Marwein Corvah, “(the district) will maybe, probably think that they can do what we want them to do.” She’s seven and attends Bancroft Elementary School.
Shannon Gibney said she supports education staff attempts to gain higher wages, especially education support staff and the union’s push for mental health services for students. She also feels the strike is an opportunity to make diversifying all rungs of education staff a priority.
“Something we don’t talk about enough, there is this like racial caste system in Minneapolis Public Schools where the support staff is mostly BIPOC folks, and they make nothing, and then the teaching staff is mostly white folks who make a decent, upper-class, living wage, which they should,” said Shannon Gibney.
But she acknowledged the challenge the Minneapolis School Board is facing of trying to fit everything under the district’s budget. She said she also talked about this with her kids – acknowledging to them that they might be in for multiple days of a strike.
“For a lot of kids, this is hard and confusing, because they have already dealt with so many disruptions in school,” said Aren Aizura of the disruptions caused by the pandemic. His daughter is a first-grader at Bancroft.
Aizura’s daughter was already scheduled to take off school to have a spring break with her other dad and was out of town on day one of the strike. If the strike continues beyond the trip, Aizura said he and her other dad will likely revert back to their remote-schooling schedule of splitting time with her over the week.
Aizura spent much of strike day one at the picket line where he saw many fellow parents marching with teachers, their students in tow.
“I think there is a real feeling among parents, at Bancroft, anyway, that we support teachers and we want our kids to have the resources and support they need,” said Aizura. “This strike isn’t actually just about paying teachers and support professionals, it’s about having things like a school nurse and a social worker, full time, in every school, and having mental health resources, and making schools safer.”
As for his daughter, Aizura said she was happy to miss school and read books she likes.
One of Jessie Begert’s sons feels differently.
“I can kind of see on my older son’s face he wants to be in school,” said Begert. “He loves to be in school. He was sad about not seeing his friends and not knowing how long it would be.
“It is tough with the uncertainty, but we talked about how we all have been going through a lot of uncertainty,” she said about the pandemic.
Her kids spent the day with their grandparents. “They are retired and able to help out,” said Begert. “I feel fortunate to have that and not be scrambling when I know a lot of families are.”
Begert is not just a MPS parent – her kids attend Sheridan Elementary School – but an employee in the district. She is an intervention specialist at Hall STEM Academy.
As other teachers and support staff began informally talking about striking in January, Begert was still a dues-paying member of the teachers union. Not long after that, she said, it became clear that a strike was imminent and so Begert decided to stop paying dues. She wrote a letter to the union explaining her departure. She also explained herself to her kids.
“A big part of it was that I don’t agree with taking strike action and I think it would be incredibly difficult for families and not fair for students to be outside of school when it’s our duty to provide instruction,” said Begert, who is still on the teacher contract.
On the first day of the strike, Begert went to work. She said she was in communication with her school’s principal, who told her only one door was being used as an entrance while strikers and protesters were outside the building.
“I wasn’t sure if people would be like trying to block my way or anything like that. They weren’t, there was no issue,” said Begert. Once inside, she worked on cleaning classrooms and lesson planning.
“It does feel strange in a building that’s meant to have kids and it doesn’t, on a day I think that school should be in session,” said Begert. “But I felt supported by my leadership, the principal and assistant principal.
“I became a teacher because I love education and I love working with students. Everyone wants more money. I don’t require more money to do my job,” said Begert. “I never felt used or abused by MPS. I find joy and I see it as a privilege to serve students.”
Begert said support staff does deserve more money for the work they do. But she said a strike is “overblown.”
“When we look at the union demanding more money in the pockets of teachers when our students can’t even read at grade level, like, what are we even … it’s a blatant disregard for the academic outcomes of especially Black and brown students, while white women walk away with more cash. And I am a white woman. But I think we need to interrupt that kind of status quo.”
If the strike continues or not, Begert said her plan is to continue going to work.