Tacoma teachers vote to continue strike, defying judge's order

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by KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on September 15, 2011 at 6:32 AM

Updated Friday, Sep 16 at 6:55 AM

Poll:
Should striking Tacoma teachers return to work?

TACOMA, Wash. -- Hundreds of Tacoma Public Schools teachers voted Thursday to continue a strike, ignoring a Pierce County judge's order on Wednesday that they return to work.

As a result, Tacoma Public Schools was forced to cancel class Friday for all 28,000 students in the state's third largest district. Athletics, however, will continue as scheduled.

Members of the Tacoma Education Association voted at the Tacoma Dome to keep the strike going due to their ongoing contract standoff. Ninety-three percent of the members voted in favor of the strike.

Picketing will continue Friday at 8:00 a.m. at the Tacoma Public Schools headquarters.

"The district has been bullying us and forcing us into a position that is not right," said teacher Felipa Galaviz.

Striking teachers could face penalties for ignoring judge's orders.

"I'd like to be able to end my school year on time and get started on my summer on time," said high school junior John Collard. "With them out there protesting I don't get that."

Prior to the vote, hundreds of teachers arrived at Lincoln High School Thursday morning with signs in hand and were picketing in front of the school. They were joined by about 100 students who marched with them in support of the strike, which the union called after negotations failed to resolve dispute over teacher pay, class size and the way teachers are transferred or re-assigned. 

The school district on Wednesday afternoon said school would resume after a judge imposed an injunction on the union.  The district had pushed back the start time by two hours, but it was clear by Thursday morning many of those striking teachers were not returning to work.

The strike began Tuesday. The judge's ruling handed down Wednesday also ordered the union and school district back to the bargaining table.

The original strike vote needed an 80 percent majority to approve. Thursday's vote requires only a simple majority.

Tacoma Public Schools spokesman Dan Voelpel said the district was "evaluating all our options" and will determine later Thursday if classes will be cancelled Friday.

Meanwhile, Superior Court Judge Brian Chushcoff, who issued the injunction, has scheduled a hearing Friday to determine whether teachers had complied with his order.

Teachers said it's not all about money, but about providing the best education possible for  students.

"It's frustrating and disheartening that we're being bullied into an unfair contract," said Peter Briggs, teacher. "But it's important for us as teachers to model to our students what correct behavior looks like. And for now, that looks like standing up against injustice and bullying and being out here on the picket lines."

Some Tacoma students were spearheading their own strike, using social media like Facebook to urge students to support their teachers. Organizers were asking people to make signs and protest outside the school district headquarters from 9 a.m. to noon Thursday.

Meanwhile, news of cancelled classes Thursday leaves many families scrambling for child care options.

Both the YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties and Boys and Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound will be extending their hours until these negotiations are settled. Starting at 6:30 a.m., Y was open for parents drop off their children, while the Boys and Girls Club was open for drop off as of 7 a.m..

KING 5's Liza Javier, Natalie Swaby and Teresa Yuan contributed to this report.

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