Tacoma, Washington Teachers On Strike Could Be Replaced, Judge Says

09/20/2011 10:20 am ET | Updated Nov 20, 2011

TACOMA, Wash. -- A judge said Monday he's considering giving Washington state's third-largest school district the option of replacing teachers on the picket line as a strike continued despite the judge's order to return to work.

"That came as quite a surprise," district spokesman Dan Voelpel said. "We didn't ask about that in court. He began speaking out loud about actions to impose next week."

It would be up to the district to decide whether it wanted to hire temporary replacements, permanent replacements or come up with another plan altogether, Chushcoff said at a hearing Monday.

"I'm seriously considering doing that," the judge said. "Those are all possibilities."

The strike has idled 28,000 students and sent most of its 1,900 teachers to picket lines. Teachers voted to strike Sept. 12 and voted again last week to remain on strike despite Chushcoff's order to return to work.

Monday's hearing was about how to notify teachers that they are violating the judge's order. The district will notify them by U.S. mail, Voelpel said. The next court hearing is set for Sept. 27.

State and local public employees, including teachers, have no legally protected right to strike, according to a 2006 state attorney general's opinion. But that opinion also noted state law lacks specific penalties for striking public employees.

The district has argued in court that 19 different judges in Washington state have ruled teacher strikes illegal since 1976. The union argued that the court should not inject itself into the bargaining process, and also suggested an injunction only applies to union leaders.

Talks between the union, the district and a state mediator restarted Monday afternoon as teachers demonstrated outside the city's middle schools, Tacoma Education Association spokesman Rich Wood said. Major issues include pay, how job transfers are handled and class size.