TACOMA, Wash. (AP) - A judge Wednesday ordered teachers in Washington state's third-largest school district to go back to work, a day after they walked out over issues that include pay and how teachers are transferred.
Pierce County Superior Court Judge Bryan Chushcoff said the law is unclear over whether public employees have the right to strike in Washington - but he nevertheless said he would issue a temporary restraining order against the picketing teachers in Tacoma.
The language of the order wasn't expected to be finalized until later in the day, and it wasn't clear whether it would apply to all of the strikers - including school support personnel - or just teachers.
"I think it is fair to say the Legislature has left this just a tad murky," Chushcoff noted.
Hundreds of teachers began picketing in front of Tacoma's major high schools Tuesday after contract negotiations broke down over the weekend. The strike has kept 28,000 students home.
Both sides were waiting to see the text of the order before making any moves. The school district said it was holding off on deciding whether classes would resume on Thursday, and Tacoma Education Association President Andy Coons told teachers after the hearing: "It's as clear as mud right now. We're still officially on strike."
School district lawyer Shannon McMinimee told the court that 19 judges had ruled teacher strikes illegal since 1976. Tyler Firkins, a lawyer for the union, said that blocking the strike would inject the court into the bargaining.
Firkins also argued that there's been no harm to the school district yet; children are required to be in school for 180 days, and the school calendar can be adjusted to accommodate that.
"I think most everyone is confused about what it means," said Chris Pigott, a teacher at Bryant Montessori.