Seattle is Lumping All its Homeless Children Into One School

A photo of Lowell Elementary School, located in Seattle's Capitol Hill district.

Lowell Elementary School, located in Seattle’s Capitol Hill district.
Photo credit: Joe Wolf via Flickr Creative Commons.

Seattle students who live in Eastlake mostly go to Tops K-8, a highly rated elementary school with a park-like yard and a lake view. Unless those students’ home address is Peer80 Homeless Shelter, barely four blocks away. For all of the homeless shelters in metropolitan Seattle, the assigned elementary school is Lowell Elementary, up on Capitol Hill.

Seattle’s best estimate is that 7% of the youths in their school district lack a permanent address. At Lowell, it’s slightly over 20%. More than one in five students at this school don’t have stable housing.

Absolutely no one likes it there, it seems. Students report violence, bullying, and apathetic staff. And the staff claims they aren’t adequately supported to take care of students with special needs. The high turnover rate is both a symptom and an exacerbating factor; 15 teachers and staff members have left since the beginning of 2017.

Homeless students are more likely than the average to be in need of special accommodations. There are students with untreated mental and physical disabilities, including PTSD. A large percentage of students barely speak English. But funding matters have prevented the school from having a stable support staff.

“You got to go through the shelter life, and then you go to school with all that stuff inside: ‘Why are we still here? Why do we still have to go through this communal eating? Why don’t we have our own stuff?’ And they’re bitter, and they’re hurt, and they’re angry,” said the mother of several Lowell students.

“And so when they arrive into the classroom, they bring all that angst with them, and for the most part don’t come in with those coping skills to kind of get them to a place where they can access the learning,” said former assistant principal Na’Ceshia Holmes, one of the staff who quit this year.

With more training and a dedicated mental health staff, perhaps this school could be a light for students. But as it is, funneling the city’s growing population of homeless youth into one inadequate school is simply harmful.

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2,000 Seattle Teachers Sport “Black Lives Matter” T-Shirts

An image of the words "black lives matter" in colors resembling the American flag.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Yesterday, about 2,000 Seattle educators voiced their support for racial equality by wearing Black Lives Matter t-shirts. The teachers are part of a group known as Social Equality Educators, which is a subdivision within the Seattle teachers union.

Organizers wanted to draw attention to racial disparities in the school system. Statistics from a 2007 study by the National Center for Education Statistics show that for grades 4 and 8, white students, on average, have higher test scores than black students. Specifically, white students scored at least 26 points higher than black students in all subjects.

Educators believe the disparity is due to unequal access to opportunities. For example, a study conducted by the Department of Education revealed that a quarter of the schools with the highest numbers of African American and Latino students do not offer Algebra II classes.

But that’s only the beginning. Statistics also show that black children were expelled at a rate three times higher than that of white children. Additionally, black children were more than three times as likely to be enrolled in schools where less than 60% of teachers meet certification and license prerequisites.

Statistics like these are what brought teachers and activists together to rally for educational reform. They met early in the morning at Chief Sealth International High School in Seattle to protest what they believe is an unjust education system.

“Black Lives Matter means ‘don’t leave us out,’” said 17-year-old Precious Manning, president of Chief Sealth International High School’s Black Student Union.

Since the event was not sponsored by the school district, educators were asked to leave before students started arriving. However, members of the Black Student Union elected to stay until classes began.

The latest show of solidarity caused quite the stir among the public. While most people were incredibly supportive, others voiced their concerns with the Black Lives Matter movement. Some even likened it to being a “terrorist group.”

Teachers Strike in Seattle

"Teachers strike!" written on blackboard

Teachers in Seattle went on strike last week as part of a fight for better pay.
Image: Shutterstock

Schools in the Seattle School District were closed Thursday and Friday last week as more than 5,000 teachers walked out in a strike after inconclusive talks with district officials. The teachers have not received a cost-of-living raise in six years, despite the high cost of living and working in the Seattle area–a cost that’s skyrocketed in the last several years thanks to the influx of tech employees at Google and Amazon.

Teachers feel that students aren’t getting the time and attention they need bcause their own workloads are too demanding, an injury added to the insult of no additions to teacher healthcare programs in five years. “Monday night, the district proposed a counter offer of $62 million to the $172 million union demand,” says Education News. The district then made a counter offer, after which the teachers’ union announced that they would strike.

Stacy Howard, a spokesperson for Seattle Public Schools, said that the school board plans to establish a 14% pay raise for teachers over the next three years, a raise which would include a cost-of-living adjustment. The district is also willing to offer a three-year contract worth $29 million in its first two years; meanwhile, the union’s proposed contract would be worth close to $84 million.

Seattle teachers have not gone on strike since 1985, and though this particular strike is a response to low pay, teachers also seek to dismantle the school board’s plan to lengthen the school day for students, which would cut down on preparation time as well as time simply spent outside of work. They would also like to see the rate of institutional testing significantly reduced.

The State of Washington has faced problems like this before. The U.S. Supreme Court said the state had not fully paid for the education of 1 million students, and the state will be fined $100,000 per day until they come up with a solution to this problem.

Teachers in Pasco, in the southeast part of the state, are also on strike, defying a court order intended to stop the action.