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Tacoma teachers defy court order, vote to continue strike

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: Tacoma teachers vote to continue strike
  • NEW: School district forced to close schools for a week
  • A judge ruled Wednesday afternoon that teachers must halt their strike
  • Since Monday, some 28,000 kids have been forced to stay home from school

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

Tacoma, Washington (CNN) -- Teachers in Tacoma, Washington, have voted to continue their strike, in defiance of a a court order to stop.

Rich Wood, the spokesman for the Tacoma teachers union, said teachers voted Thursday to continue their strike despite a judge's Wednesday order. At a union meeting Thursday afternoon, 1,478 teachers voted to keep striking, Wood said, adding that 107 voted "no" or abstained. He said teachers were concerned about how Judge Bryan Chushcoff would react to their defying his order.

The Tacoma School District did not return a call seeking comment, but a message posted on the district's website said school for 28,000 students would be suspended again Friday, as it has been for the rest of the week.

Chushcoff's order on Wednesday was in a case the district brought against the striking teachers and their union.

After the ruling, District Superintendent Art Jarvis said he expected teachers to return to work while the union and school district continued stalled contract negotiations. At the time of the ruling, a hearing was scheduled for Friday to ensure the union complied with the judge's order.

Chushcoff also ordered hearings on the legality of the strike and stalled 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 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 teachers 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 teachers 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 public school.

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

The state judge 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.

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."

"It's not appropriate to try and influence or intimidate me," he said.