School is open for students Friday in Haverhill, Massachusetts for the first time all week, after the teachers' union and school committee reached a tentative agreement Thursday night.
It's a potentially confusing situation for parents; the district announced at 7 p.m. that classes would be canceled for a fifth day. But just before 11 p.m., the two sides announced the tentative deal, ending the ongoing teacher strike.
The Haverhill Education Association and school committee negotiation team chairman signed that agreement and spoke together in a joint press conference late Thursday night.
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Under the pressure of protests and picketing outside schools and city hall, as well as growing court-imposed fines for the union as the strike dragged on, the union and district made significant progress over the last two days. They reached a tentative agreement on teacher raises Wednesday, followed by an agreement on the district’s student disciplinary process Thursday.
The final sticking point they had to hammer out was the return-to-work clause, on which they reached a deal at the 11th hour.
They said Labor Secretary and former Boston Mayor Marty Walsh even stepped in to help push those negotiations toward the finish line.
"After many hours of negotiation, and back and forth, we were able to strike a finalized deal very recently," Scott Wood of the Haverhill School Committee said Thursday. "We are extremely excited to get the teachers back in the classroom, get our students back where they belong in the classrooms."
Because the decision was made so late, there will not be bus service for students Friday.
"With this contract we won a financial package that represents a substantial investment in our public schools, closing a damaging wage gap between Haverhill educators and educators in other districts," President of the Haverhill Education Association Tim Briggs said. "We won language that addresses student safety, we won language to develop a more diverse teaching force, all of these are tremendous benefits to the 8,000 students in Haverhill Public Schools."
The school district said in a statement following the deal that students are encouraged to attend school Friday, but those that do not report will be excused.
"The agreement includes increased pay for teachers, without placing an undue burden on taxpayers. It also addresses union concerns about classroom safety, while maintaining management rights and protecting student rights to privacy," a statement from Scott Wood said, who is also the chairman of the negotiating committee. "Importantly, the union has agreed to reimburse the School Department for costs incurred during this strike. In addition, the union has agreed to fund a scholarship program for underprivileged students."