ST. PAUL — Ten St. Paul district schools welcomed hundreds of students Thursday, March 12, for a day of dancing, board games and art activities — but no direct instruction.
Classes were canceled again Friday as the teachers union strike appears headed for a fourth day despite the resumption of negotiations Thursday morning after a two-day break.
Meanwhile, the district began offering two child care options for elementary school students.
Three schools on Thursday restarted Discovery Club, the school district’s fee-based before- and after-school program. Seven schools opened a new program called Kid Space, which costs parents nothing but has shorter hours.
About 800 students attended Thursday across the seven Kid Space sites.
Ryan Fell, the district’s federal program manager, was reassigned to leading Kid Space during the strike. He’s been getting the program ready since union members voted to authorize the work stoppage three weeks ago.
Teaching assistants, who are part of a different union, are working with students. They arrived at the Kid Space sites Wednesday and decided which activity stations they would man.
“The TAs are here to support and lead them through activities but we’re not leading them through math instruction or reading instruction,” Fell said.
District spokesman Jerry Skelly said they aren’t teaching because they don’t have the staff to teach everyone.
“The district cannot provide educational services to some without providing educational services to all,” he said.
With nurses among those on strike, Kid Space parents were warned that children would have to administer their own medication.
In a room opened to reporters at Highland Park Elementary, 14 youngsters made paper bag puppets, colored pictures, built figures with pipe cleaners and squeezed out lots and lots of glue. They ate breakfast and lunch and rotated to different activity rooms throughout the day.
A mile and a half away, about 10 St. Paul Public Schools students have been hitting the books this week at Holy Spirit School.
Dressed in plainclothes alongside nearly 300 uniformed classmates, the students are members of the Catholic parish.
Principal Mary Adrian extended the invitation to parish families last week after a parent on Facebook fretted over where to send her child in the event of a strike.
“It hit me that that would be the situation for a lot of parents,” Adrian said. “We want to be of support and we have some room in our elementary school.”
Families are paying $35 a day to attend Holy Spirit short-term. Adrian expects the students will go back to public school when the strike ends, but she wouldn’t mind seeing them stay.
“My hunch is this will provide an opportunity for families to get to know us better, but that really wasn’t the driving force for us,” she said. “We’re really looking at this as temporary.”