School closures brought challenges, uncertainty for parents

Nov. 16—On the afternoon of Tuesday, Nov. 14, the third and final day of the Andover teachers' strike, the early education room at Memorial Hall Library was busy.

Children calmly read, played games or wandered through the aisles with their parents in hot pursuit.

While the Andover school strike brought challenges for parents, those at Memorial Hall firmly supported the teachers. The union and School Committee reached a tentative contract later that day and classes were back on for Wednesday.

The Andover Education Association, which represents 800 educators or 75% of the Andover Public Schools staff, had been on strike since Friday seeking better wages and conditions, especially for instructional assistants, some of the lowest-paid educators in the district.

"We are happy if they get what they deserve," said Daliena Hubschman, who has a daughter in kindergarten. "And if it takes awhile, we are OK with that."

But the closure of school had an impact on her daughter, she said.

"She wants to go back," Hubschman said. "It is a little confusing to them."

On Monday, the family went to a science museum.

"We are trying to do a little bit of education," she added.

Jaclyn Verreaux said her son, who is in second grade, was doing "fine for the most part" but was a bit upset about the uncertainty of the situation. She said the school closures remind her of the pandemic.

Verreaux said she works a hybrid job and is lucky to have an employer who is flexible.

"It's definitely more of a challenge to work with him around," she said of her son.

Despite the challenges brought by the strike, Verreaux said she fully supported the union's action.

"It's worth it for us," Verreaux said.

She said the union securing a better contract is in the best interests of students as well, in part due to union demands for more recess time for elementary school students. Verreaux also talked about how important instructional assistants are in the classroom.

"We want them to be paid fairly," she said.

Instructional assistants were paid between $19.26 and $28.60 an hour, according to their contract that expired Aug. 31. The average hourly pay for instructional assistants for 2022-23 was $24.36. The new contract has brought significant wage increases.

Vijet Raj sat behind a computer desk in the library with his son, a preschooler who was playing a math game.

"He keeps asking every day," Raj said of when he could go back to school.

Raj and his wife work full time. He took time off at the beginning of the week and if the strike had continued, his wife would have to take off the second half.

"It has been a struggle," he said.

While Raj said he hoped the strike ended soon, he said educators in the district deserve better pay.

"They work very hard," he added.