TUMWATER, Wash. - UPDATE: Hundreds of Tumwater teachers filled Thurston County Courthouse sidewalks as their fight with the district heats up.
“It was a slap in the face. It was zero respect for people we look to. We respect them, and I felt like that was no respect for us,” said Suzan Rixe.
Rixe is a Tumwater special education teacher. She couldn’t believe the district took them to court.
“Like TEA (Tumwater Education Association) has chosen a strike as part of their negotiation toolkit, the district is simply engaging in the legal action in the process,” said Tumwater Superintendent John Bash.
Bash admits Tumwater is going through tough times.
“We often call ourselves the Tumwater family. Well, there’s a little turbulence in our family right now, but we think we’ll come back together,” he said.
The district’s attorney argued the strike is hurting families who rely on school food programs, child care and special education classes.
“The only harm that does speak to me, but it does speak to me, is the harm to special needs children and the education they receive,” said Thurston County Superior Court Judge Chris Lanese.
Although concerned, Lanese said it’s too soon to tell if the strike is causing students substantial harm.
“I’m not granting the motion, I’m not denying the motion,” he said.
Lanese told teachers multiple times Friday that strikes by state employees are illegal. However, there is no legal punishment in Washington for teachers who strike.
Parent Erin Christopherson said she doesn’t agree the strike is causing students substantial harm.
“What’s causing harm to my kids is not a fair contract. Emberlynn here has an IEP, she’s in special needs classrooms and she needs smaller class sizes, she needs the funding and the safety,” she said. “She has been the reason for room clears, so I completely support the safe environment for her, for her teachers, for her peers. It’s just insurmountable.”
If a deal isn’t reached, the Tumwater Education Association and the Tumwater School District will be back in Thurston County Superior Court Wednesday at 9 a.m.
Hundreds of parents lined the entrance of the Washington Education Association Chinook building all day long Thursday to sign declarations that supported their teachers.
“I want the district to be able to recruit quality teachers who can help us raise children that are competitive, who are well-adjusted, who are compassionate, can get good jobs, and there’s no way for us to do that when we have colleagues who are making 25 percent more a half-mile down the street,” said Meghan Borden.
Borden’s two sons are elementary school students in the Tumwater School District. She’s not happy the district is taking legal action against teachers.
“It felt really like a slap in the face,” she said.
Sara Smith feels the same way. She teaches second grade.
“I could go to North Thurston right now, which, I could drive there just as fast as I could to Tumwater, and I could make an additional $5,000, $6,000, $7,000 a year,” she said.
On top of salary, Smith is fighting for increased safety and smaller classes.
“Two years ago, I had 25 second-graders in my class, and it’s really hard because the students are really learning how to read and it’s hard when you have so many in the classes,” she said.
A county over, Centralia teachers met again to march.
“This is a great community. Sadly, if there’s a tragedy, they rally together. If there’s something, like this, it just makes us stronger,” said Kerri Kite-Pocklington, co-chair of the Centralia Education Association.
Thursday marked the 15th day of bargaining. Teachers sounded more optimistic than in the past.
“It was one of the very first updates we had where we kind of went 'yay' instead of ‘ugh,'" said Kite-Pocklington.
Teachers in every district said they want to sign new contracts and get back into class with their students.
“As soon as the district just starts listening and really changes these big issues, we’re ready to go back in the classroom,” said Smith.
Members of the Tumwater Education Association will rally Friday at the Thurston County Superior Courthouse at 9 a.m. before their 10 a.m. appearance in court.
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