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Franklin High School teachers protest return to classroom, citing inadequate coronavirus ventilation

caption: Franklin High School staff and parents rallied outside the building on Tuesday, March 30, 2021.
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Franklin High School staff and parents rallied outside the building on Tuesday, March 30, 2021.
Ann Dornfeld/KUOW Photo

Special education staff at Franklin High School in south Seattle have refused to return to the building for training this week, until the district proves that the indoor air quality is adequate to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Instead, staff did their online health and safety training bundled up at tables outside of the school on Tuesday.

The district has told staff and the public that buildings are ready for staff and students, said Hannah Graether, an instructional assistant at Franklin and a teachers union representative. But when staff examined an inspection report about the school’s ventilation, they found serious deficiencies, including a lack of air circulation in some rooms.

“I would like the air quality reports to meet the bare minimum of our contract, as they are required to do,” Graether said.

The district said in a written statement that it did a walk-through inspection of Franklin Tuesday morning, and that the seven classrooms to hold returning students "meet the recommendations put forth" by the state health and labor and industries departments. Officials also said they taking measures to improve airflow in classrooms without proper ventilation.

The district said it brought in HEPA filters, but Franklin staff said they had not been set up yet. They want the district to test the air flow again before special education students start returning to school on Monday.

“You know, it makes us wonder how many more things in the building are wrong right now? What else needs to be fixed?” asked Bobby Walston, a special education instructional assistant. “It's an old building, so of course there are issues. But the district promised that we would have a safe environment - we should have a safe environment.”

Union leaders and school staff held a rally on the school steps Tuesday morning. Seattle Education Association Vice-President Uti Hawkins said that the district should take staff concerns about building readiness seriously.

"As a person of color who — for years [my] concerns have been ignored — when it it is finally written down, it is now my obligation to have those things be in place."

Hawkins said walk-throughs at other schools this week revealed some missing signage regarding safe room occupancy.

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