Defying judge's orders, Tumwater teachers continue strike

Update: Tumwater teachers voted overwhelmingly to defy a judge's order and continue to strike.

"I'm exhausted, my body's exhausted, my soul's exhausted. I just want it to be over with and I feel like this is going to be a long fight,” said teacher Linda Parker.

Tumwater teachers plan to head back to the picket lines Thursday, violating Judge Chris Lanese's court order to stop striking and start the school year.

“I’m going to grant the school district's motion for a preliminary injunction,” said Lanese in court.

Lanese ruled there is a chance the strike could cause students substantial harm. Tumwater Education Association president Tim Voie argues current circumstances are worse.

“Crowded classrooms aren't good for kids, unsafe classrooms aren't good for kids. The refusal of the district to contact parents when there's a violent episode in a classroom is not fair to students also,” said Voie.

After the ruling, Tumwater Superintendent John Bash said the district will bargain in good faith.

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“The district is doing everything it can to resolve the situation and we believe we'll move forward,” he said.

Teachers, like Parker, don't believe him.

"We don't have any faith the district is going to bargain fairly,” she said.

Wednesday Lanese didn’t impose sanctions. Voie said teachers are already being penalized.

“The biggest sanction right now is our inability to get in the classroom with our students,” he said.

In a statement Wednesday evening, the district said, in part:

“The district has notified TEA leadership that September 13th is the first scheduled teacher work and September 14th is scheduled to be the first student day. 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. 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.”

Previous coverage: 

On Tuesday, Tumwater teachers traded their strike signs for shovels and spent Sept. 11 giving back.

“I was thinking that this would be a really cool thing to do every year on 9/11, but, you know, usually we’re in the classroom,” said Megan Olsen Enger, Tumwater teacher.

Rather than being in the classroom, teachers have been on the picket line for a week.

“It has been pretty turbulent and stressful, and this is feeding the souls of our teachers,” said Tim Voie, Tumwater Education Association president.

Hundreds of Tumwater teachers volunteered at places like Old Pioneer Cemetery, the Thurston County Food Bank and the Thurston County Animal Shelter. They also brought treats to first responders.

“We thought that today would be a good day to go out and help the community and not be standing on the lines, but showing we support them in other ways,” said Harrison Fry, Tumwater teacher.

Voie hoped Centralia’s tentative agreement would help negotiations in Tumwater, but he said bargaining wasn’t going well Tuesday. He doesn’t know what would happen if the Tumwater Education Association has to go back to court Wednesday.

“We will accept whatever ruling the judge brings forward, and we’ll make a decision on where we go after that,” said Voie.

Despite what the district said, teachers argue the strike isn’t hurting students.

“Sending them back to the same learning conditions and crowded classrooms, they feel that is harming students more than being off for a few extra days,” said Voie.

On Tuesday, the Tumwater Education Association had more than 700 declarations signed by parents and community members, supporting the teacher strike.

Tumwater’s hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday in Thurston County Superior Court.