STRIKE IN COURT: Judge to make decision Thursday in Kent teachers' strike

Jim Gasper

Jim Gasper

After hearing both sides in the Kent School District's request for an injunction to end the Kent Education Association's week-long strike, King County Judge Andrea Darvas postponed a decision until 11 a.m. Thursday morning.

Citing a complex issue that came too late in the morning for her to fully digest before Wednesday afternoon's 45-minute-long hearing, Darvas said she wanted to further study the arguments from either side and look deeper into the citations made in each brief.

“I realize these issues are of tremendous importance to the parties as well as to the public,” Darvas said before announcing her decision would come Thursday.

Both sides made their case before Darvas through their respective attorneys: Charles Lind representing the school district and Jim Gasper representing the union.

Lind's argument built on the district's complaint that strikes by public employees are illegal under Washington State common law and that irreparable harm was being done to students and parents, as well and non-teaching staff members of the district, who do not receive a paycheck when school is not in session.

Washington courts have routinely ruled and state attorneys general have concurred that because strikes by public employees in general are illegal in Washington, and no specific law says otherwise for teachers, teacher strikes are therefore illegal.

“The common law prevails in absence of legal action,” Lind said. “We have no such action in the state of Washington in relation to public strikes.”

Gaspar argued that teacher strikes were not illegal because the law does not explicitly forbid them, as it does with firefighters or police. Gasper called the lack of language regarding a teacher strike a “glaring omission.”

“The court cannot substitute itself for the Legislature,” Gasper said, adding “it is not conclusively established that this is an illegal strike.”

While Darvas questioned if the harm being done by the strike was irreparable, Lind said the standard for the case is that if the harm is or would become irreparable, then the school district was subject to injunctive relief.

Gasper argued that there was no irreparable harm, calling it an “inconvenience” to parents and students right now, but said there is flexibility built into the district's calendar that will allow the district to make up the days.

“Isn't it just a question of when the court will draw the line?” Darvas asked.

Gasper said that would fall to the district to come back to the court at that point.

Following the hearing, KEA Vice President Connie Compton, who was named in the complaint along with the rest of the KEA executive board, said she would have preferred an answer, but added she hopes the judge will carefully consider the case.

“I hope she'll realize there's a heck of a lot at stake here,” she said, adding that she thought more harm was done by putting kids in classes with 40 students - a union complaint - than caused during the strike.

District Communications director Becky Hanks said the district was hoping for resolution today, but said that a decision tomorrow may still mean getting students into school by later this week or early next week at the latest.

IN A NUTSHELL:

The Kent School District is arguing that the current strike is illegal under Washington State law and that because it has or will cause irreparable harm to the students, parents and employees of the district, the court should grant injunctive relief demanding the teachers lay down their pickets and go back to work.

The union is arguing that the strike is not illegal and even if it were, the burden of proof for proving irreparable harm falls to the district and it hasn't yet met that standard.


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