DC seeks restraining order against teachers’ union to halt further strike talks

Washington Post DC Education and Schools Reporter Perry Stein on the possibility of teacher walkouts Tuesday

D.C. is asking for a temporary order to prevent the Washington Teachers’ Union from engaging in a strike that would stop the reopening of some schools for in-person learning on Tuesday.

According to court documents filed Monday by the D.C. Attorney General’s Office, without this injunction, D.C. and “its most vulnerable youth — will suffer profound and irreparable harm.” D.C. schools have been closed for in-person learning since March 2020, the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

District law prohibits government employees or unions from participating in a strike, as does the collective bargaining agreement between D.C. Public Schools and the Washington Teachers’ Union, according to the filing.

This “makes clear that WTU cannot support or promote any slowdown, strike, work stoppage, or other similar activity.”

Court documents say that D.C. and the Washington Teachers’ Union had a memorandum of agreement in December 2020 that laid out steps that D.C. Public Schools would take to ensure the safety of teachers and students before schools reopened. The MOA also provided for expedited arbitration to resolve disputes on whether the school system fulfilled its obligation.

D.C. said that the union requested arbitration last month but did not identify a specific safety issue it wanted the school system to address. The filing said this was an effort by the union to “prevent the partial reopening.”

The District also claims that the union started planning a work stoppage to start on Feb. 1, in case the arbitration did not end in its favor.

The school system asked the union in an email three times to stop any strike or work stoppage but did not receive a response.

An arbitrator ruled that the teachers union did not prove the majority of the MOA violations. However, two schools were found insufficient during a pre-opening walk-through. For Coolidge High and Watkins Elementary, in-person learning will resume when another walk-through takes place.

D.C. Public Schools is working to comply and the opening of these schools will be delayed, court documents said.

D.C. is accusing the Washington Teachers’ Union of failing to “respect the process to which it agreed and is instead pursuing an illegal work stoppage that the D.C. Code, CBA, and binding precedent clearly prohibit.”

In a statement to WTOP news partner NBC Washington, Chancellor Dr. Lewis Ferebee said, “DCPS fulfilled its health and safety commitment to students and staff, and these measures were reaffirmed by an arbitrator’s decision made over the weekend.

Our schools are safe, and we know the best place for students to learn is in the classroom. Our students are ready, our buildings are ready, our staff is ready. DCPS is opening our doors tomorrow.”

The union will hold a news conference Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. to discuss members’ safety concerns about returning to classrooms.

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Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

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