Nearly 2,000 teachers strike in Camas and Vancouver


Nearly 2,000 teachers in two Southwest Washington school districts started the school year on the picket line but returned to classrooms by mid-September with new contracts.

Camas Education Association members ratified a new contract Sept. 7 after a seven-day strike that started on what would have been the first day of school. The agreement covers nearly 450 teachers. It lowers class sizes, raises wages, and creates a new funding plan for music, art, health, and physical education classes.

Four days after Camas settled, on Sept. 11, about 1,500 teachers represented by the Evergreen Education Association ended their strike, which also delayed the start of the school year by seven days. Teachers ratified a new agreement that adds special education staff, provides more collaboration time for teachers, and raises wages.

A push for a student-centered contract in Camas

For Camas teachers, the Aug. 28 walkout was their first-ever strike. Teachers said the district stopped responding to their proposal to lower class sizes and restructure how music, PE, and library programs are funded.

“I’m proud of our union for standing up for what’s right: Our students. But this is not how I wanted to start my school year,” Camas High School math teacher Alisa Wise told the Labor Press the first day of the strike.

Teachers returned to work Sept. 8 after ratifying a contract that provides cost of living raises over the life of the two-year agreement. The vote to ratify was 397-7.

The agreement lowers class sizes at all grade levels. The most noticeable change happened with the youngest students: Kindergarten class sizes dropped from 24 maximum to 22 this school year and 21 in 2024-25.

Although two fewer kids in class might not seem like much, Woodburn Elementary School kindergarten teacher Kristi DaMassa said it will make a difference. Decades of education research has found that students perform better in smaller classes.

“For many of my kids, this is their first classroom experience,” DaMassa said. “We have to be the teachers who teach them how to regulate themselves (emotionally), on top of teaching them how to read and write. … Our students will receive more attention from their teachers because the classes won’t be overloaded.”

Students in grades 6-12 also will see class sizes shrink. The contract shifted from the previous “average class size” model to a baseline and maximum size for each grade. It also requires the school to add a new class section in lab sciences that exceed their baseline.

That’s important because lab classrooms have a set number of workspaces for students, said Camas High School science teacher Cory Marshall. If a class has more than that number of kids, there will be students who don’t have their own desk or lab equipment.

The contract creates a “resource fund” that provides money for electives like PE, library, and music programs on a per-student basis. Before, principals decided how much of their building budget to dedicate to those programs, so some schools had more robust programs than others, said Camas Education Association Vice President Michael Sanchez. Sanchez directs the Skyridge Middle School band. For students, that meant their experience in music, PE, and the library depended on where they went to school — and that wasn’t equitable, Sanchez said. The resource fund addresses some of that inequity, he added.

“I don’t need a new trumpet, but my kids need new instruments,” Sanchez said. “All this money is for the kids.”

The contract provides a 13% boost to pay over the next two years. The raises are based on the same local inflation rate as previous contracts, instead of the nationwide figure district officials originally proposed.

In a prepared statement, Superintendent Dr. John Anzalone said the contract reflects a shared dedication to students and high-quality education.

Evergreen secures special education supports

The Evergreen teachers started their strike Aug. 30 after contract negotiations reached a standstill over their proposals for cost of living raises, more special education staff, and increased planning time. They returned to work Sept. 11, hours after they voted 1,255 to 71 to ratify a new contract that meets some of those original requests, said union President Kristie Peak.

At Evergreen School District, teachers fighting for kids were joined by kids on the strike picket line. | PHOTO COURTESY EEA

“The caveat is like always, we didn’t get enough. But we got what we could get, and this is a good first step for getting supports for students, especially those with (special education plans) or multilingual learners,” Peak said. “We are not going to stop demanding what students should rightly have.”

Under the agreement, the district will hire up to 10 special education “student support teachers” this school year, and up to 12 the next two school years. Those are new roles that will function kind of like a float pool worker. The teachers will not be relegated to a specific building or classroom. Instead, they will be assigned to schools that need extra help or have staffing gaps. The union and district officials will work together to determine where they are needed most, Peak said.

The contract also dedicates time for general education teachers to meet with special education teachers and paraeducators, so they can work together to make learning plans for students who need extra support. Teachers were already doing that, though often it happened before or after school, or while they were off the clock and not getting paid.

“I don’t think you could shake a stick without hitting a teacher that has given their personal time to collaborate,” Peak said. “Teachers will always try to do what they can, which is both a good and a bad thing because it kind of masks the need for longer than it should, like putting a Band-Aid where a tourniquet needs to be.”

Now, general education teachers will receive up to six hours of planning time to meet with special education teachers. The special education teachers get up to 12 hours, because they manage multiple student learning plans, Peak said.

Like the Camas teachers, Evergreen teachers will earn cost of living based on the Seattle Consumer Price Index, a local inflation rate. In total, the teachers will see wages rise about 17% over the three-year contract.

Teachers agreed to withdraw more than 1,000 grievances they filed after Superintendent John Boyd threatened to withhold their September paychecks if they did not return to work. Such a move violated the terms of the previous contract that expired July 31, as well as state labor and wage laws. When the tentative agreement was reached, district officials said they would pay teachers as usual.

In a letter to parents, Boyd said he was pleased to have an agreement with teachers, so the school year can start.

“We know this work stoppage has been inconvenient and stressful for our families, and the best thing we can do now is come together as a district and give our students the education they deserve,” Boyd said in a press release. “We are determined to do so.”

Parents backed teachers

It’s not unusual for a teachers strike to frustrate some parents who have to coordinate child care for their kids when the school year is delayed. But members from both teachers unions told the Labor Press they received overwhelming support from the families in their communities.

Marshall, the Camas High School science teacher, said the worst reaction striking teachers outside of his school received was a thumbs down. Countless drivers who passed by the picket line honked in support.

Parents in Evergreen started an “Support Red for Ed” Facebook group, which grew to nearly 2,000 members in less than three days. The group organized a pro-teachers rally outside the district office.

Other unions, including Fire Fighters Local 452, donated water and snacks for teachers in both districts. They visited the picket lines at some of the more remote schools to boost morale among picketers who saw less traffic.

“I’m not sure the district expected the community’s show of support and the solidarity and strength of teachers,” said Peak, the Evergreen union president. 

With contracts settled in both districts, the teachers and districts now must discuss how to make up the school days lost to the strike. The state requires all districts to provide 180 days in the classroom each year.



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