Safe sites planned for students if St. Paul teachers strike

St. Paul teachers are threatening to strike over salaries, class sizes and staffing. Negotiations continued Tuesday night, but what if schools end up closing? 

In the event they hit the picket lines, the St. Paul Federation of Teachers is working on establishing “safe sites” for students shut out of classes.

This comes nearly a week after union members voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike.

“There is a little bit of fear about the unknown and what could potentially happen,” said SPFT Union member Sam Divita. 

Roughly 37,000 students are enrolled in the district.

Divita said that much of the union’s concern is centered on the district’s most vulnerable students, many of whom rely on schools for meals.

“We go to work every day, working for students and their families and we want to make sure these students are OK during that time,” he said.

Right now, union members are working to identify at least three “safe site” locations throughout the district. Teachers and other volunteers would provide support, transportation and food during a strike.

“Several sub-committee members are working on different aspects of securing resources that would essentially be donated or provided. That’s our hope,” Divita said.

“Just them being out of school and the uncertainty is what concerns me,” parent Kinutta Taylor said.

Taylor has three young children in the district.

“I’m glad that they’re looking out for the welfare of the kids - that’s great - but I would hope that they reach an agreement before it gets to that point,” she said.

For teachers, some of the sticking points are wages, a push for smaller class sizes and an increase in classroom support.

“I think that most union members would agree that we really don’t want this to go forward; we would like a resolution so that we can continue working with students and families,” Divita said.

The union is looking at sites that will accommodate several hundred students, as negotiations continue throughout the week. The district said they're committed to meet through the weekend in order to avoid a strike.