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Lawmaker seeks protections for teachers against strike

Teachers at Humphrey Elementary school participate in a state-wide walk-in prior to classes Wednesday, April 11, 2018, in Chandler, Ariz. Arizona teachers are demanding a 20 percent pay raise and more than $1 billion in new education funding. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Teachers at Humphrey Elementary school participate in a state-wide walk-in prior to classes Wednesday, April 11, 2018, in Chandler, Ariz. Arizona teachers are demanding a 20 percent pay raise and more than $1 billion in new education funding. (AP Photo/Matt York)

With a strike looming on Thursday, a key Republican lawmaker is moving to give legal protections to teachers who say they don’t want to walk out.

House Majority Whip Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, is telling teachers who oppose the job action to send her emails at her official state address detailing that they actually want to go to work but can’t because the school has been closed. Townsend told Capitol Media Services she will write back – and from her official state email account – to provide proof that they made that claim.

What makes that important is that state schools-chief Diane Douglas issued last-minute warnings to teachers that she will refer complaints against teachers for abandoning their jobs to the state Board of Education. And that board, she said, can investigate and, if appropriate, rescind the teaching certificates of each of the strikers.

Douglas acknowledged that the odds are against the state board decertifying tens of thousands of teachers, especially with schools already unable to find certified teachers for thousands of classrooms. That has resulted in increased class sizes in some cases and courses being taught by long-term substitutes in others.

Rep. Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa)

Rep. Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa)

She said the board has other options, like a censure.

None of this is likely to come into play, however, at least not for the rest of the week.

Stefan Swiat, spokesman for the Department of Education, said a teacher runs afoul of the law by abandoning his or her job.

But many of the teachers are instead taking personal leave days today and Friday, something to which they are entitled in their contracts. And that, Swiat said, means no breach of contract — and no chance of punishment.

All this comes as Townsend also is working with attorneys to explore the possibility of a class-action lawsuit on behalf of people who were financially harmed by the strike.

That specifically includes families who might have to reschedule a long-planned vacation or even change airline reservations for a planned graduation ceremony that had to be rescheduled. Townsend will not identify the law firms involved, saying they are still planning their strategy.

She also had no answer for the question of who, exactly would be the defendant in any lawsuit seeking damages. Townsend said, though, she would not want to penalize individual teachers.

Douglas said what’s happening Thursday and Friday raises another issue, with some districts closing their schools in anticipation of a walkout.

“I would like to know how a governing board or a school superintendent ratifies an illegal action by just closing the schools,” she said.

Diane Douglas

Diane Douglas

And Douglas brushed aside the contention that such a move may be appropriate, given that district officials fear that not enough staff shows up to open the building and operate it safely.

“You don’t know that,” she said.

“Has every single principal sat down with his staff and said, ‘Are you going to walk out or do you want to be here?’ ” Douglas said. “I bet you we’re going to find a whole lot of people who want to be at work but can’t be.”

That is backed, at least in part, by the tally of last week’s vote by the Arizona Education Association and Arizona Educators United. They said of the 57,000 people who asked for ballots — both teachers and support staff — 78 percent voted to strike.

What that also means is that more than one out of every five people who voted are against the walkout.

But Tim Ogle, executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association, said the local board members who decided to close schools were doing the right thing.

“You trust that your school leadership has done their homework,” he said, looking at any contingency plans about what it takes to keep a building open — and safe.

“It would be irresponsible to have school if you’re not staffing it appropriately,” Ogle said.

3 comments

  1. Kelly Townsend and Diane Douglas need to be voted out as soon as possible. The Legislature created this mess by cutting education for the past 25 years to where Arizona is now one of the lowest in the nation, finally the teachers rally together, and these two characters are threatening them and their livelihoods. This is the abuser now trying to threaten the abused into silence. They’re both despicable.

  2. Public funds for public education ONLY.. These Arizona legislators have violated the Arizona constitution that states Arizona will properly fund PUBLIC education. With 95% of our children going to public schools, they need to be adequately funded by the Arizona government.. The legislators of Arizona are in violation of our state constitution by not funding the public schools

  3. As a parent, tax payor and voter I understand the teachers have a difficult job, long hours, lots of stress. I disagree with the way they are going about their protest. There is no perfect solution. At the same time yes it could be better. However I have questions as a voter, parent and tax-payor.

    If the teachers union continues to disagree with the graduated pay increase and continues to strike, will they be in breach of contract with the State of AZ? How does this affect the students this close to the end of the school year? If the teachers association is found in breach of contract would they then have to re-negotiate their contract? When does the current school year end then? Seriously, how does this effect the students at all grade levels? Are charter and private schools included in the strike? Has the teachers association considered the impact to the students with special needs let alone the students that are at risk? Have they considered the impact to all the students and the disruption this late in the school year? You all know that it is difficult to recover that lost teaching time for many students. Are the teachers on strike still getting paid regardless of the time off or are they using vacation and sick leave if they have it? Schools say that students have to be in attendance whatever precent of the time to not be considered truant, when are the teachers considered truant? And if I as a parent decided to enroll my child somewhere else, I probably can’t because guess what the school administration is closed to let alone final grades.

    At the end of the day the result is this if the stike continues on, hurts the students and parents by not allowing the school year to finish, hurts all the disadvantaged students and families, loss of work time for parents of younger kids who have to take time off, kids who are applying for scholarships, moving on to college, won’t have final grades in, what about kids that are planning on doing summer studies or internships, what about the college testing for the ACT SAT althogh that can be done at the community colleges, still. Do I as a parent of a highschool student need to pull my student out and enroll that student at comunity college to complete highschool? I as a parent of a highschool student have more options open to me than the parents of the students in pre k through 8th grade. Yes I realize this is a teaching opportunity peaceful protesting is our right as United States citizens, legislative process in action, financial impact in so many ways. It is all perspective. This “we will let you know day by day” thing is getting old fast. I would address my questions to my school district, but oh wait they are probably closed.

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