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Judge Might OK Replacement Teachers in Tacoma Strike

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A Pierce County Superior Court judge said Monday that he might authorize the Tacoma School District to hire replacement workers if striking teachers do not return to work as he ordered.

Judge Bryan Chushcoff suggested such an authorization might persuade the vast majority of the teachers, who have not shown up to work since Sept. 12, to return to their classrooms while their negotiators try to reach a contract agreement with the district. Classes were canceled for a sixth day Tuesday for the Tacoma district's 28,000 students.

Should the judge grant such authorization, he said 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.

"Those are all possibilities," Chushcoff said in court.

Tacoma School District spokesman Dan Voelpel said the district did not request the right to use replacement workers. "We want our teachers back in the classroom, not replacements," he said.

The judge's comments came during a hearing to iron out language of another order that requires teachers who haven't complied with the judge's back-to-work order to come into court to explain themselves.

The first batch of hearings for those people—including board members of the Tacoma Education Association—is scheduled for Sept. 27.

The district will be mailing to the other nearly 2,000 teachers walking the picket lines notice of the judge's intent to hold contempt hearings against them should they not return to work before Sept. 27, either with a new contract or in compliance with his orders.

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"I urge everyone to go back to work," Chushcoff said.

The judge signed a temporary restraining order Wednesday that requires the teachers to return to work while negotiations continue. Most teachers have refused to do so. At another hearing Friday, the judge gave the two sides more time to work out an agreement, saying he would hold of on sanctions for now.

The district's attorney, Shannon McMinimee, said it was clear that the judge was frustrated with the teachers for defying his order.

"He's thinking creatively to provide the district with additional remedies and for himself to have additional remedies to address the noncompliance with his order," she said. "It sounds like the court is not pleased with the continued violation of his order."

The union's attorney, Tyler Firkins, said the Tacoma Education Association would challenge any attempt to replace its members.

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