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Judge suspends teacher strike in Tacoma pending hearings

By Patrick Oppmann, CNN
Striking teachers march on a picket line Wednesday in Tacoma, Washington.
Striking teachers march on a picket line Wednesday in Tacoma, Washington.
  • NEW: Superintendent says schools will be open Thursday
  • Hearings ordered on legality of strike, contract talks
  • Teachers walked out Monday after negotiations broke down
  • School district claims teachers don't have right to strike

Go to CNN affiliate KCPQ for more information on the teacher's strike.

Tacoma, Washington (CNN) -- A Washington state court judge Wednesday ordered striking teachers to halt the protest that has kept some 28,000 children from the classroom.

Superior Court Judge Bryan Chushcoff issued the temporary restraining order and ordered that schools reopen immediately after the Tacoma School District took the striking teachers and the Tacoma Education Association union to court.

District Superintendent Art Jarvis said later Wednesday that schools would be open Thursday and teachers would be expected to report for work.

Chushcoff also ordered more hearings be held on the legality of the strike and stalled contract negotiations. Attorneys for the school district argued that since teachers are state employees they do not have the right to strike.

"The illegal strike has forced the district to close 57 schools, disrupting the lives of approximately 30,000 students and their families," school district attorney Shannon McMinimee wrote in the lawsuit.

McMinimee argued that if the 2-day-old strike continued indefinitely the protest would harm students, particularly children with disabilities, low-income pupils who rely on meals provided at schools and seniors applying to college next year.

"Students in Tacoma under the Constitution are entitled to an education," she said.

Some 1,900 teachers went on strike this week after talks broke down over a new contract for educators. The teacher's union argued the school district was unyielding on the issues of class size, teacher pay and how teachers are transferred between schools.

Tyler Firkins, the attorney for the teacher's union, said the school district was not negotiating in good faith and that if the strike continued students could make up the missed time later.

"What they are saying is that the school year is immovable, can't be changed under any circumstances. That is not correct," Firkins said.

"Whether my child misses a week or two, it's not going to affect her education," Firkins said of his daughter, who he said attends classes at a Tacoma pubic school.

"This is about teaching our kids to stand up to bullies," said Andy Coons, president for the teacher's union."I'm disappointed that we're not bargaining, that we're spending the day in court,"

Chushcoff said the school district's arguments that students were being harmed by the strike were enough reason to halt the protests, at least until more hearings and negotiations could be held.

Union president Coons said he was waiting to see the language of the order before ending the strike.

Calling himself "a product of the Tacoma school district," Chushcoff said if anyone didn't like his ruling, they could blame it on his education.

During Wednesday's court session, Chushcoff held up photographs of a sign he said had been placed at his home. The printed sign said "Support Tacoma teachers."

Chushcoff responded by saying, "It's not appropriate to try and influence or intimidate me."