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AKRON, Ohio (WJW) — Akron leaders held a press conference Friday to encourage negotiations and offer community resources to help avert a strike by the Akron Public Schools teachers’ union.

Members of the Akron Education Association teachers union plan to start picketing on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023, according to a news release. Students were set to return to the classroom from winter break on Friday, Jan. 6, according to the district’s calendar.

“The Akron community’s outpouring of concerns regarding school safety and security are being ignored by Akron Public Schools,” association President Patricia Shipe is quoted in the release. “Weeks of unparalleled fighting are now daily occurrence within Akron school buildings, yet the superintendent and the board continue to want to water down the definition of assault and force students, teachers, parents and families to endure more violence, disorder and disruption to the education of the majority of Akron students.”

The violence has caused teachers to resign at a “record-setting pace,” according to the association. Now more than one-fifth of the district’s teaching positions are unfilled or filled with staff whom the association claims are unqualified.

During Friday’s press conference, Akron Deputy Mayor Marco Sommerville spoke for the city leaders pledging to solve these problems, where students are put first, families are not disturbed and negotiations are resolved in a timely fashion.

“We are going to make our HR director, who’s a former federal mediator also at the school system’s disposal 24/7,” Sommerville said.

Sommerville said they are also currently working to replace aging metal detectors with new ones.

“Without an education, you’re not going to be able to do the things that you need to do,” Sommerville said. “That’s why this is so important to make sure this institution stays open, make sure the students are in class learning everyday and making sure the teachers are safe and are paid a wage that is commensurate with the work that they do.”

Somerville said that if teachers do go ahead with the strike, the city is prepared to make sure the community centers are opened up early in the morning so kids have a place to go as well as plan activities to keep them busy.

Bishop Joey Johnson, Founder and Senior Pastor House of the Lord, was also in attendance at the press conference to offer spiritual support.

“The children are the highest priority and so it’s probably going to have to be give and take on all sides,” Johnson said.

Johnson is calling for prayer in the community and calling for conversation on both sides of the negotiations.

Father Norm Douglas at St. Vincent Parish and Executive Director of Heart to Heart Leadership, who grew up in Akron, says he was once one of those kids in Akron schools and is grateful for the education he received when the district didn’t have these issues and has spent his life in ministry to the Akron community.

“I was involved to a limited degree in 1989 when they had a strike,” Douglas said. “I met with all the people involved for fostering a spirit of reconciliation that in doing that they can come together and come to a joint decision.”

Contract negotiations began in April and the groups declared an impasse in May, according to state employment relations documentation provided to FOX 8 News. Subsequent fact-finding was rejected by the association, leading to the federal mediation process.

Negotiations are expected to continue through the weekend during meetings on Saturday and Sunday.

Stay with FOX 8 as the story develops.