Strike leads to search for child care for St. Paul parents

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A school bus waits as teachers strike on the corner.
An empty school bus waits at a stoplight as striking teachers stand on the corners of Dale Street and Maryland Avenue in St. Paul Tuesday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

There’s more uncertainty for parents and students in St. Paul as classes in all of the city’s public schools are canceled for a second day in a row.

The school district and the St. Paul Federation of Educators report the groups are no closer to reaching a settlement to end the first strike in decades. They took a break from negotiating Tuesday, the first day of the strike.

Enrique Ortiz and his son Payton, 6, spent part of the day looking for something fun to do.

His son would normally be in a kindergarten class at Expo for Excellence Elementary. Ortiz, who supports the efforts of the educators on strike, took the day off from his job running a hotel front desk.

“I’m fortunate enough to have a job where I am able to work around my schedule or he can come to work with me for a little bit, but yeah, we are just kind of playing it by ear right now. Hopefully he goes back to school soon,” Ortiz said.

At Mattocks Park in the Macalester-Groveland neighborhood, a few moms and their kids made use of a mild weather day to keep everyone entertained.

Erin Wiegratz ran through more options just in case she needs to keep her children home for the rest of the week.

“For me I think, this is day one, we can just have fun today, maybe we will try to I don’t know, maybe I need to learn first grade math for the rest of the week, we’ll see,” Weigratz said.

Alison Jensen planned to call in reinforcements if the strike stretches on.

“My husband and I work opposite schedules so we are covered,” Jensen said about Wednesday. “And then I am fortunate enough to have my parents pitch in for some of the other days.”

St. Paul Superintendent Joe Gothard didn’t sugarcoat the situation Tuesday. He said the educators’ union and school district are still far apart on how to move forward.

The union wants more mental health services for students, as well as more multilingual interpreters and special education funding. The district says it can’t accommodate all the demands because of lower state and federal funding and the loss of 2,000 students over the last four years.

“Of course, there are state tests and things of that nature so it is a huge, huge impact on normalcy for the school calendar and school schedule, not to mention the inconveniences it puts on everyone in the city,” Gothard said.

During the strike, the city of St. Paul will keep open some school buildings and use libraries and rec centers to serve free breakfast and lunch to its students. These measures are expected to help a fraction of the 37,000 students who make up the district. They are critical services in a district where 70 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

It’s the students who are most vulnerable that educators are fighting for, said Ursula Becker, a Highland Park Senior High School teacher. While she sympathized with all the families making last-minute arrangements, she believes parents know the strike will eventually pay off for students.

“They absolutely understand that even if their kids are doing great, someone's kids aren’t. And they deserve to be taken care of, too.”

St. Paul Public Schools have four more days set aside for bad weather that could be used to offset the strike.

  • Meals for students 18 years and younger are available at some schools, libraries and rec centers. The map is here.

  • Libraries host drop-in programs, such as Homework Centers, Createch and reading programs.

  • Recreation centers open an hour earlier at 1 p.m. These centers have open gym time.

  • St. Paul Parks and Recreation offers S’more Fun, a recreational child care program.

  • Como Park Zoo & Conservatory has a K-4 day camp.

  • The city’s park and recreation department has expanded Rec Check to start an hour earlier, from 1-6 p.m. It’s free for St. Paul students grades one through five.

How are you handling child care during the strike?

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