Battle Ground Public Schools filed for an injunction against its teachers union Thursday in an attempt to force them back to school.
The district, whose school board voted Wednesday to take legal action to stop the ongoing strike, filed the motion in Clark County Superior Court.
“We are committed to the bargaining process, but it is a great disservice to our students to not have them in class,” district spokeswoman Rita Sanders said by email. “And that remains the district’s primary objective: to get kids into school.”
Judge Scott Collier will hear the matter at 9:30 a.m. Friday.
Teachers are in their 11th day of a strike. Battle Ground’s teachers are the last in Southwest Washington to continue picketing.
On Wednesday, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Chris Lanese granted a preliminary injunction in favor of the Tumwater School District, but teachers in the district said they’d continue to strike anyway.
Marina Heinz, vice president of the Battle Ground Education Association, said the district and the union remain in bargaining over salaries in light of new school funding. She called the district’s injunction disappointing.
“We want to keep the best educators in Battle Ground,” Heinz said. “In order to do that, an agreement has to be reached at the bargaining table. Everything the district is doing is slowing that down.”
Legality of strikes
Teacher strikes are illegal in Washington, according to nonpartisan education advocacy group, the League of Education Voters.
A 2006 opinion from then-Attorney General Rob McKenna, a Republican, said public employees, including teachers, do not have a legally protected right to strike.
But as this summer has shown, strikes still happen. While state law prohibits public teachers from striking, the reality is there are no consequences for doing so specified in state law. The only way a district or community group can attempt to force teachers back to class, therefore, is by filing for a temporary restraining order.
Teachers can — and have in Washington — defied those court orders.
Evergreen Public Schools did the same in 2016 when contract negotiations between the district and its teachers stalled. Longview Public Schools was granted an injunction against its teachers last week, but the two sides came to an agreement over the weekend, preventing teachers from striking in contempt of court.
Battle Ground Public Schools has hired Tacoma law firm Vandeberg, Johnson and Gandara to represent them in the case. According to the documents filed Thursday, the strike has created an emergency situation in the district “entailing material and substantial interference” with the district’s ability to educate students.
“The closure of schools caused by the strike has harmed and will continue to harm students, including special needs students, and their families,” the filing reads. “For low-income students, the strike has interfered with the free and reduced-price breakfasts and/or lunches provided to these students.”
Stephanie Etulain is a social studies teacher at Battle Ground High School who, with her co-workers, has been picketing for 2½ weeks. She was also among nearly 1,000 people who attended Wednesday’s Battle Ground Public Schools board meeting, where the directors voted 4 to 0 to pursue legal action against the union.
She called Thursday’s injunction “a natural progression” of the process, but said it’s unfortunate that the dispute over salaries has gone this far. She noted that Battle Ground remains the only district in Southwest Washington whose teachers remain on strike.
“The injunction unfortunately communicates that the district has no immediate plans for a tentative agreement,” Etulain said. “I hope the community understands that we are holding the district accountable to treat its teachers fairly.”
Also filed in court Thursday were a series of declarations from district leaders. Chief Financial Officer Meagan Hayden, Deputy Superintendent Denny Waters and Superintendent Mark Ross detailed the alleged damages students and the district have suffered as a result of the strike, including the potential for reduced enrollment and lack of access to special education services or free and reduced-price meals.
Ross wrote that the strike could cause “actual substantial injury, including aspects of irreparable harm to the district, its students and families, and the greater community.”
Etulain, meanwhile, dismissed those critiques.
“How does this alter from summer?” she said. “Do they provide all of these services during the summer, spring break, or winter break?”
Continued Etulain, “the students will receive the 180 days that the district was planning to provide once a contract is agreed upon.”
Classes are canceled Friday in the district. The district is set to start fact-finding hearings next week.