By Mindy Ragan Wood
Yukon teachers have voted to return to their classrooms after a long teacher walkout kept them at the state Capitol for nearly two weeks.
“I cannot express enough the respect and admiration I have for Yukon educators and support staff,” Superintendent Jason Simeroth said Thursday in a prepared statement. “Since the beginning of the walkout on April 2, Yukon employees have professionally and passionately expressed the need for our state to fund public education, not just for Yukon, but the entire state. In my humble opinion this speaks to the hearts of our staff and community and how they selflessly want the best for all students. This is why Yukon is the destination district for anyone wanting the best education provided by the best people in the state.”
Support for teachers during the walkout seemed consistently high. Simeroth previously reported the positive feedback he received from parents, and Board of Education member Don Rowe said Thursday he was still receiving calls from parents who said they continued their support.
Concerns and criticism grew across the state however with the possibility of lost federal funds to schools if they did not complete the mandated standardized testing. Many districts have already returned to class, with several larger districts having held out this week.
Simeroth noted what teachers and the Oklahoma Education Association were able to witness at the Capitol.
“Teachers and support staff received a raise from the state legislature. This had not happened since 1990 and was nowhere in sight prior to the teacher movement at the Capitol. Per pupil funding is now at an all-time high, the overall common education budget has increased by $543,954,340. I say all that to say that the teachers have accomplished an historic increase in funding that many deemed impossible based upon the history of our legislature. Oklahoma teachers have changed the path of education moving forward,” he wrote.
The decision to return to class, his statement reads, was based on the urgency teachers felt to return to their students.
“The administration met with the Yukon Professional Educators Association leadership to discuss how they would like to proceed with the teacher rallying efforts at the Capitol…the most prevalent discussion was the students how they are walking for the students of tomorrow, but we need to take care of the students of today as well,” Simeroth wrote.
A survey showed two-thirds of teachers wanted to return to school Monday, April 16. The last day of school will be June 1 to make up for lost instruction time. State law dictates districts must complete 1,080 instruction hours to receive full funding.
Simeroth’s statement indicated teachers are not giving up.
“YPS will continue to send delegates next week as the instruction staff believes that they will need to speak with legislators and encourage them to plan to do more in the future. We encourage the members of our community that are able to join with those sent by the district to do so, help us continue the dialogue at the Capitol while we go back to the classroom to educate your children,” his statement reads.
Simeroth also announced the YPEA will form a YPS advocacy group to continue speaking with legislators at the Capitol. The superintendent also stated the administration intends to amend the coming school calendar to close school on election day in November to make it easier for educators and staff to vote.
He thanked the community for its support.
“I have witnessed acts of kindness towards teachers and conversations with legislators from parents that I never dreamed would be taking place. So, thank you so much for backing the educators in Yukon. We see this support every year and every day in our district and I am still awed by the people of Yukon on a daily basis.”