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Minneapolis teachers strike over staff resources and support for students

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Teachers in Minneapolis, Minn., went on strike this morning for the first time in more than 50 years. The teachers say it's not just about money. After two pandemic years, they want more support for students and more resources to keep their colleagues from quitting. Minnesota Public Radio's Jon Collins reports.

JON COLLINS, BYLINE: The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers says negotiations with the district stalled over their main issues. They want more mental health support for students, smaller class sizes and raises that help retain educators from diverse backgrounds. Thousands of teachers rallied this afternoon after a morning of picketing.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: If the students don't get it...

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Shut it down.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: If we don't get it...

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Shut it down.

COLLINS: Leah Wright is a teacher at a southside elementary school. She says both parents and teachers have struggled during the pandemic and fears that the district is going to keep losing staff and families unless there are immediate changes.

LEAH WRIGHT: Our kids have had less and less supports and resources as time has gone as they need more and more supports.

COLLINS: Teachers are also pushing to get raises for educational support staff like Jose Bodeya. The union wants to raise their starting salaries from $24,000 to $35,000. Bodeya says, like teachers, he and his colleagues play a critical role in their schools and deserve to be fairly compensated.

JOSE BODEYA: You know, for the district to say that they don't have the means, it's an insult, I think, to the profession itself.

COLLINS: In a statement, the Minneapolis Public Schools superintendent called the strike disappointing, but both sides vowed to continue negotiations. The strike closed schools in the city and left parents scrambling to find childcare, although the district and city parks did provide some services. Nicole Moen brought her two young sons to a protest in support of their teachers. She says it's even more important after two years of pandemic challenges that the district provide more resources to teachers and students.

NICOLE MOEN: And they're important not just for Minneapolis kids, but for all kids. And we can't have the society we want if we don't have strong schools, healthy schools, safe schools, stable schools, places for our children to learn.

COLLINS: Across the river in St. Paul, the school day went on as usual. The St. Paul teachers union and school district reached a tentative agreement last night. While it still needs to get final approval, union representatives say it will lead to lower class sizes and more support for students - exactly the thing Minneapolis teachers say they also want. For NPR news, I'm Jon Collins in Minneapolis.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jon Collins