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Judge denies Bellevue School District request to order teachers back into classrooms

Teachers fear spiking coronavirus infections as the district calls 2nd graders back to in-person school.

BELLEVUE, Wash. — The battle between the Bellevue School District and its teachers over returning to the classroom went to court.

On Thursday a judge denied the district's request to order the teachers back to classrooms.

In-person learning started Thursday for 775 Bellevue second-graders, with substitute teachers in the classrooms. The district and the teachers will continue their negotiations on Friday.

Some students were eager to get offline and back into the classroom.

Jake Peterson, 8, said the remote learning thing wasn't working.

"I haven't really learned that much," he said. "I'd do better in school."

When Jake made his long-awaited arrival at Woodridge Elementary his regular teachers weren't there to greet him.

Earlier this week the district's teachers voted overwhelmingly to stay out of the classrooms because of rampant COVID-19 cases across the state and country.

The Bellevue Education Association (BEA) asked the district to "pause" in-person learning until they can all be vaccinated.

"If we start adding hundreds of adults, thousands of kids, we're going to put strains on those systems that many people feel are not likely to withstand and that could lead to infections," said BEA's Allison Snow.

District officials said there are plenty of protocols in place to keep everyone safe, noting there have been no coronavirus cases with the 800 or so special education and daycare students who have been in school since September.

The district plans to bring another 1,400 elementary school students back to class by Feb. 1.

Jake's mom, Beth, agreed with the district administrators.

"I feel that the district has had 10-and-a-half months to figure this out. They've put the necessary safety precautions in place. There's also science and data showing kids are not super-spreaders of COVID," she said.

With negotiations at a standstill, the district took the case to a judge Thursday, asking him to order teachers back to into classrooms for 14 more days so talks can continue.

"This is a last resort, but it is one we are taking to uphold our agreement for our students and families, the majority of whom have asked to return to buildings for in-person learning. This is the last place we wanted to be," said a district spokesman.

Late Thursday a King County Judge Dean Lum denied that request.

Teachers vowed to fight on, saying as at-risk educators are being denied leaves of absence and forced to choose between their job and their health.

"If they don't show up to work once they're directed to they risk losing their certificates," Snow said. "We have a number of teachers who feel like they're being forced into an impossible situation."

After nine hours of negotiations on Thursday, the district and the teachers planned to continue negotiating on Friday.

"It's no one's goal to strike," Snow said. "The students shouldn't have to suffer."

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