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A Washington State Judge Told Striking Teachers to Return to Work. They Refused

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On Wednesday, a Washington state superior court judge ordered striking teachers back to the classroom, saying their strike could be causing substantial harm to students.

But the teachers in the Tumwater school district, who have been fighting for pay raises along with educators across the state, aren't planning to go back just yet. 

After two-and-a-half hours of "intense, thoughtful, and deliberate discussion" on Wednesday afternoon, teachers "overwhelmingly" voted to continue to strike, said Linda Wood, of the Washington Education Association, in an email.  

After the court ruling to legally end the strike, the district had announced that Thursday would be a teacher work day, and classes would begin on Friday, the news station KIRO 7 reported.

"If the teachers do not report to work, the district will be forced to take the necessary steps the judge outlined in court to seek relief," the district's statement read. "This is not an approach the district takes lightly, but is a part of the process to help get our students and staff back to school."

Thurston County Superior Court Judge Chris Lanese did not set a return-to-work date in his ruling, the Olympian reported. He also did not set any penalties, saying that those are up to the district. The district could pursue legal action to hold the teachers in contempt of the judge's ruling if they do not return to work. Teacher strikes are illegal in Washington state.


See also: Teacher Strikes: 4 Common Questions


The 340 teachers in the Tumwater district have been on strike since Sept. 1—meaning that 6,450 students haven't yet started school. Lanese said that a strike could particularly harm the district's disadvantaged and disabled students, according to the Olympian.

But teachers have disputed claims that the strike is harming students. "Sending them back to the same learning conditions and crowded classrooms, [teachers] feel that is harming students more than being off for a few extra days," said Tim Voie, the president of the Tumwater Education Association, according to KIRO 7. 

Tumwater is one of three districts still currently on strike in Washington state, but teachers in 14 districts took to the picket lines this fall. Educators across the state have been seeking sizeable pay raises after a 2012 state supreme court ruling forced the state to give districts an additional $2 billion to go toward teacher salaries. In many districts, teachers' unions have negotiated double-digit pay raises. 


See also: Teacher Strikes Are Heating Up in More States


Teachers in the Tacoma and Battle Ground districts are also on strike. Both districts have sought a non-binding opinion from the state's Public Employment Relations Commission. But the battles are escalating—on Wednesday, a spokesman for the Tacoma district, which is the fourth largest in the state, said officials are considering pursuing legal action against the striking teachers.

And in Battle Ground, the school board has voted unanimously to withhold pay if teachers don't return to the classroom by Monday, according to the news site KATU 2. (The local teachers' union has called the threat a "scare tactic.") 

Image: Kat Appleby, right, a teacher at Stewart Middle School, carries a sign with a quote from Seattle Seahawks football player Earl Thomas that reads "The disrespect has been well noted and will not be forgotten," as she walks a picket line on Sept. 12 with math teacher Hillary Bridge, left, and other striking teachers in Tacoma, Wash. —Ted S. Warren/AP

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