Willapa Valley teachers left classes Monday to begin a strike that will close schools today in the Pacific County district near Raymond. The move follows months of negotiations during which school district leaders have failed to adequately address teachers’ concerns over student safety, support for students, and competitive pay.

Dale Folkerts, Spokesman for Willapa Valley Education Association, said that three major topics are these issues:

Safe classrooms for students and teachers: A comprehensive student behavior program will improve classroom safety and foster a climate of success for our Willapa students.

Special Education Support: Our students with the highest needs deserve better support from our public schools. The district has been unwilling to provide the necessary support for our special education students.

Attract and retain the best teachers: Willapa Valley students deserve the best. Our students will have to compete with other students across the state for jobs, higher education and scholarships. Increased wages and great working conditions help attract, recruit and retain the best educators for Willapa Valley students.

Teachers in the valley remain some of the lowest paid in the region and across the state. Negotiations began in June and schools started on time this fall, but teachers voted last week to strike if the district continued to delay and deny instead of making meaningful progress during negotiations. The district made no significant movement during mediation by Monday’s 4 p.m. deadline. Negotiations with the state mediator are scheduled to resume Tuesday morning at 9.

A special meeting was called of the school board last night with only two items on the agenda, a resolution authorizing the superintendent to close the schools, and a resolution to suspend policies, rules, and regulations of the district. The District told parents in a letter last weekend that they will communicate with parents and staff as soon as further information is available.

Negotiations with the state mediator are scheduled to resume this morning at 9.

Another special meeting of the board is scheduled for tonight.

The district said that strike will not prevent after-school sports from continuing, and teachers will pull down their picket line so that students can continue to get food service at school during the lunch hour. The district has about 335 students and 25 teachers.