Educators at the Groden Center schools in Providence and Coventry went on strike Tuesday in protest of management’s unfair labor practices, to demand safer classrooms for their students, and living wages for staff. On Friday, September 28, Groden Center management and the union (SEIU 1199) did not reach an agreement. Instead of agreeing to meet or responding to the union’s most recent proposal, the Groden Center announced that it would be closing the schools for the next three days.
“We love our students and don’t want to be on strike again,” said Samantha Lozeau, a Behavior Specialist at Groden South School in Coventry. “But we have tried so hard to get management to take our concerns seriously, and they continue to spend money on temp agency staff so our students aren’t getting the education or services they deserve. Most of our students cannot stand up and speak for themselves so we are going to be their voice and fight for better schools for all educators and students.”
The union’s primary goal in negotiations is to reduce turnover and ensure a safe learning environment for students, as over 90 percent of behavioral specialists earn less than $15 hour and Groden has a yearly turnover rate of almost 30 percent.
The Groden Center is a non-profit that serves students with Autism from around the region. Students who struggle in traditional public schools attend school at Groden in order can receive specialized education more suited to their educational needs. School districts around the state pay for these services, and trust that the students will be taught by professionals who are familiar with the students and have training and expertise in educating students with autism.
Instead, temporary agency staff with less training and familiarity with students are often used to cover vacant positions. These staff are less familiar with the needs of students and often struggle to implement the students’ Individual Education Plans (IEPs). Groden spent nearly $350,000 on temporary agency staffing in a recent 12-month period rather than investing in raises to recruit and retain staff.
For children with Autism, consistency is a cornerstone of their education and well-being. The constant turnover and use of temporary staff not only deprives students of a quality education, it has resulted in daily occurrences of injuries and unsafe situations for students and staff.
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