Tuesday, September 08, 2009

[olympiaworkers] Kent teachers vote to stay on strike despite judge's order

Story Updated: Sep 7, 2009
By KOMO Staff & News Services

KENT, Wash. -- Teachers in Washington state's fourth-largest district
voted Monday night to continue their strike, despite a court injunction
ordering them back to work Tuesday to prepare for students.

Kent Education Association spokesman Dale Folkerts said 74 percent of the
1,300 gathered union members voted not to return to work until they have a
ratified contract.

The teachers "know there could be consequences" to going against the
judge's order, he said. But after a long and heartfelt discussion, "they
decided it was a cause that was important enough to stand up for."

Choosing to break the law, the teachers themselves weren't quite sure what
would come next.

"I don't know. Maybe come down and visit us in jail," said teacher Ron

"I suppose there's a whole slew of issues that could arise of these
consequences," said union president Lisa Brackin-Johnson. "Our members
have said they are willing to go (to jail).They made their vote today.
This is what they're willing to do."

The teachers are unwilling to settle on their top issues -- class sizes
and more time with students.

Folkerts said class-size limits in Kent are substantially larger than
surrounding districts and that overcrowded classrooms create bad learning
environments and in some cases, safety risks.

"Today we made a statement that says, 'No more; we've had enough.' And I'm
very proud of our association for that," said teacher Demetrius Pye.

"You know, I've always told my children to obey the law. But sometimes
laws need to be changed," said teacher Donna Pearson.

Before Monday night's vote, hundreds of families and students gathered to
cheer on the teachers in their fight.

"We want quality education. That's what this is about," said parent Tom
Curtis. "And we're here to support teachers, and they have to be really
courageous at this time."

"Watched the teachers working with the students. I've seen how they're
suffering with over-sized classrooms, and not having enough funding for
supplies in the classrooms to the point where the teachers are asking us
for tissue boxes for classrooms," said parent Vipul Rathod.

The Kent School District has more than 26,000 students and 1,700 teachers
at 40 schools. Its teachers began their strike Aug. 27, less than a week
before classes were scheduled to begin.

On Thursday, King County Superior Court Judge Andrea Darvas granted the
district's request for an injunction to force the teachers back to school,
saying their strike was illegal. She encouraged both sides to continue

District spokeswoman Becky Hanks said late Monday that the district's
bargaining team was prepared to negotiate throughout the night for the
first time since the teachers' strike began.

She said the district is working to address teachers' concerns while being
fiscally responsible, and has put forth a proposal that raises pay,
decreases meeting time, and increases the staff-to-student ratio by
bringing in extra assistants and placing limits on class size.

"The bottom line is, we have absolutely addressed each of their requests,
and we hope that our teachers have a chance to review the district's
proposal," Hanks said. "We want our students back in school where they
belong, and we believe we've presented a fair proposal that responds to
their requests."

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