Tumwater Public Schools will not be in session Friday as the teachers union remains at an impasse with the school district. The new school year was scheduled to start September 5, but ongoing contract talks have delayed the start.
On Wednesday, Tumwater teachers voted to keep striking, despite a judge's order to return to work. They could face contempt charges or fines for defying the court order.
“There were some concerns, but the overwhelming majority of our members voted to continue the strikes,” said Tumwater Education Association President Tim Voie.
The Tumwater School District sued the union last week on the grounds that the strike was illegal and was causing substantial and irreparable harm. A judge agreed the strike was illegal but asked for 'proof of harm' at the scheduled court hearing.
In court Wednesday morning, Thurston County Judge Chris Lanese sided with the school district. The judge said if teachers did not follow his order, the district could return to court to seek contempt charges or fines.
"At this point, we believe or there is evidence to support that there will be substantial and real harm specifically to the disadvantaged and or special education children in the Tumwater School District. I am finding that the substantial harm requirement has been shown in this case," Judge Lanese ruled.
Superintendent John Bash called the strike and the courtroom proceedings 'difficult' for the community. He hoped the ruling would have meant students could return to class Friday.
If that does not happen, according to a district spokesperson, “The district will be forced to take the necessary steps the judge outlined in court to seek relief.”
Kelly Merslich, a second-grade teacher at Peter G. Schmidt Elementary, said the court ruling re-energized her. She said it was 'scary' for her to think about being punished, but felt voting to stay on strike will be worth it.
“We’re not just going to back down now because now someone is telling it’s time to back down. It’s not time,” said Merslich.
The Tumwater strike is in its 12th day. Teachers will return to the picket line "until our bargaining team tells us they have reached a fair and reasonable agreement," union president Voie said.
The ongoing teacher negotiations stem from the McCleary Decision, which allocated $2 billion for teacher salaries in the current budget.