On the second day of the historic Arizona teacher strike, a conservative group has sent letters to school superintendents in the state with a warning: Require teachers to return to work, or parents and students might sue.
The Goldwater Institute, a Phoenix-based think tank, has told school leaders that the strike is illegal and violates students’ constitutional right to be guaranteed an education. The letter charges that districts closed as part of “a coordinated plan” to allow teachers to skip work without penalty. (If districts had remained open, teachers would have had to use personal leave to miss work. Many district leaders have said they had to close schools because they didn’t have sufficient staff to care for students.)
District leaders need to re-open schools, search for substitute teachers to replace the educators who refuse to return, and stop facilitating the strike to avoid a lawsuit, the letter said.
“The disruption this illegal strike has caused is hard to measure,” wrote Timothy Sandefur, the vice president for litigation at the Goldwater Institute, in a blog post. “Not only does this unlawful strike violate the teachers’ constitutional duty—and contractual obligation—to teach, but it interferes with the plans of almost 850,000 Arizona students and their parents, who have been forced to make arrangements for being out of school.”
He added that some schools will add on extra days to the end of the school year calendar to make up for the work stoppage—which could disrupt vacation plans, delay graduation, or “interfere with the ability of students to leave for religious missions overseas.” Arizona has a larger Mormon community than many other states, and many young Mormons go on overseas missions as early as age 18.
Teachers in Arizona are expected to continue to protest at the state capitol on Monday. Their strike is the third statewide teacher work stoppage since February—part of an unprecedented and growing movement among U.S. educators. Colorado teachers also demonstrated at their state capitol on Thursday and Friday for more education funding, forcing about a dozen school districts to close, but they are set to return to work on Monday.
Arizona teachers are asking for $1 billion in school funding, including a 20 percent teacher pay raise. State senators have said they are confident they will pass a pay raise deal, but are not sure where to find the money, according to the Arizona Republic.
Meanwhile, Arizona’s state superintendent’s message to teachers is: “Get back in the classrooms because your duty is to the students and the parents,” Diane Douglas told the Arizona Republic.
She said she wasn’t sure what the consequences for teachers could be if there are complaints made about their refusal to work—but they could include a letter of censure, suspension, or the revocation of their teaching license.
“This is uncharted territory,” she told the paper.
Teacher strikes are illegal in West Virginia as well, and the state’s attorney general had said his office would assist and support any superintendent or board of education if they tried to enforce the law during the state’s nine-day strike earlier this year. Ultimately, there were no legal consequences for teachers there, who received a 5 percent pay raise.
Image: Teachers rally outside the state Capitol on April 27 in Phoenix, on their second day of walkouts. —Matt York/AP
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.