Districts, Teachers Could Be Targets of Strike Suit

By Fischer, Howard | AZ Daily Star, April 30, 2018 | Go to article overview

Districts, Teachers Could Be Targets of Strike Suit


Fischer, Howard, AZ Daily Star


PHOENIX -- The statewide teacher strike enters its third day Monday as educators remain dissatisfied with the pay hike proposal by Gov. Doug Ducey and many schools remain closed despite threats by the Goldwater Institute to sue.

The walkout by teachers that started Thursday and has affected some 850,000 Arizona schoolchildren is an illegal strike, contends Timothy Sandefur, an attorney for the organization that litigates over conservative causes.

"Public school teachers in Arizona have no legal right to strike, and their contracts require that they report to work as they agreed," he said.

But the real target of his legal threats are individual school districts, which he contends are facilitating walkouts. That includes everything from closing schools while the teachers and support staff are staying away to refusing to dock the pay of the absent teachers.

The bottom line, Sandefur said, is that not only makes school officials equally guilty of an illegal act but puts them in violation of their constitutional obligations to educate children.

"In order to prevent the possibility of a lawsuit, it is necessary for district employees to return to work, and for the district to operate as normal, including, if necessary, taking steps to find substitute teachers to replace those who refuse to comply with their legal and contractual obligations," he wrote in identical letters to school districts around the state.

So far, though, the majority of those districts that shuttered their schools starting last week have shown no signs of reversing course, at least for the moment.

In fact, Tim Ogle, executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association, said local board members who have made these decisions are doing the only legally defensible thing. It would be "irresponsible" to open a school building after administrators determines there would not be enough staff to safely supervise the students, much less actually try to conduct lessons, he says.

Sandefur doesn't see it that way.

He said it would be one thing if a school were closed for a "genuine public safety reason." This, he said, is not that.

"Districts have encouraged teachers not to show up for work," Sandefur said. And he said they have an obligation to seek out substitutes.

But Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, said there is no constitutional violation.

"Districts are free to set their own calendars," he said, just so long as they provide the minimum hours of instruction required by state law. And if that means altering the calendar to add a few extra days at the end of the school year, that's perfectly legal.

But Thomas' organization is doing more than spouting philosophy.

It has fired off its own letter to Attorney General Mark Brnovich challenging Sandefur's claims that teachers are acting illegally. It also seeks to debunk a parallel argument by state schools chief Diane Douglas that the teachers have abandoned their jobs, meaning their teaching certificates can be suspended or revoked by the state Board of Education. …

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