By Liam Reilly
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Following a days-long strike over classroom conditions and teacher pay, the Columbus, Ohio teacher’s union voted Sunday to ratify an agreement with Columbus City Schools, which will allow students to return to in-person learning Monday.
A majority of members of the teachers’ union, Columbus Education Association, voted to accept the agreement, union spokesperson Regina Fuentes said at a news conference after a vote on the agreement, which ended a six-month bargaining process that involved the union’s first strike in decades just days before classes were scheduled to start.
The strike meant that the first day of the new school year at Columbus City Schools — Ohio’s largest school district — took place online, with substitutes leading the virtual classes Wednesday while 4,500 teachers, librarians, counselors, and other school workers were on strike.
The strike came as schools around the country face critical teacher shortages and low morale among educators, who argue they are underpaid and underappreciated, teaching in more crowded classrooms and in challenging conditions exacerbated by the pandemic.
Teachers in Columbus were seeking 8% annual pay raises, as well as commitments to improve heating and air conditioning in dilapidated buildings, smaller class sizes and full-time art, music and physical education teachers in elementary schools.
The new agreement includes provisions that guarantee all student learning areas will be climate controlled by the beginning of the 2025-2026 academic year, a reduction in class sizes across all grades, and paid parental leave program for teachers, as well as salary increases for the next three years, Fuentes said.
The district had previously offered a 3% pay bump but refused guaranteed air conditioning — an issue that sat at the core of the strike, according to the union.
Thousands took to the picket lines last week, many carrying signs calling out issues with temperatures at schools. “98 DEGREES IS A BOY BAND NOT A CLASSROOM TEMPERATURE,” read the sign one teacher held outside East High School.
After the agreement was reached early Thursday following a nearly 14-hour bargaining session, teachers used Thursday and Friday for planning to prepare for a return to class Monday.
“We are excited to get back to where we belong — our classrooms — doing what we do best: educating our students and shaping the future of our great city,” Fuentes said.
Fuentes added that workers across the nation are “tired of settling for the status quo,” and said she hopes the union’s work is a catalyst that will inspire people nationwide to fix issues in public education.
“They need to put more of an investment in our students because they are the most important investment in this entire nation,” Fuentes said. “It starts here but we want to keep it going. Hopefully, the community will see what power they have and actually get involved even more.”
Officials at Columbus City Schools, which serves 47,000 students, said the new agreement puts children first.
“This is a contract that keeps students at the center of all we do and supports our Board’s educational mission for Columbus City Schools,” Board of Education President Jennifer Adair said in a statement Sunday. “To all CEA members, we say thank you for your thoughtful consideration of this agreement and for your unwavering commitment to supporting our children and families. We look forward to getting our children back in their schools with you tomorrow.”