BOISE, Idaho (Nov 23, 2020) — Idaho’s largest teachers union has vowed not to shut down schools again a month after waging an illegal strike that forced 40,000 kids to stay home unexpectedly. The union’s promise comes after a group of parents sued the teachers union for illegally shutting down schools by calling into work sick en masse.
The parents sued the teachers union in October, claiming that the teacher “sick out” was an illegal strike and banned in Idaho. At the same time, West Ada School District warned teachers that they were potentially violating their contract with the district and could face internal discipline for falsely claiming sick days. In response to the lawsuit, West Ada Education Association president Eric Thies said in a sworn statement, “I… now understand that public sector labor strikes may be illegal in Idaho under common law. WAEA has no intention to call for, or compel if possible, any form of illegal strike in the future.” The union reiterated this promise in another legal filing last week, saying it “has no intention of undertaking any unlawful work stoppages in the future.”
The West Ada parents are represented by attorneys from the Liberty Justice Center, a nonprofit law firm that won a pivotal Supreme Court case against the government unions in 2018. Idaho Freedom Foundation supported the parents in the lawsuit.
“Thanks to the brave work of these parents, the kids of West Ada, Idaho, will not have to wake up and find out that school is cancelled because their teachers called in sick,” said Daniel Suhr, senior attorney at the Liberty Justice Center. “Just like classrooms have rules, the state of Idaho has laws that everyone must abide by and one of those laws is that teachers strikes are illegal.”
“This outcome undoubtedly serves as a victory for Idaho students and families,” said Dustin Hurst, vice president of the Idaho Freedom Foundation. “Teachers unions should never use kids as political pawns and this resolution ensures that won’t happen again.”
Background: Like other districts around the country, West Ada School District closed in-person operations in March and started the new school year in a remote learning model. The district had been phasing in some of its 40,000 students for in-person classes and was set to welcome back more students in October.
The West Ada School District’s plans to reopen in-person instruction for all students were suddenly halted when more than 700 of the district’s 2,145 teachers called in “sick” in protest. A group of parents filed a lawsuit arguing this week’s “sick out” was an illegal union strike, and that the teachers union cannot use the threat of another work stoppage to force the district to meet its demands.
The impact of closed schools on communities is devastating. Kids have missed out on more than six months of in-person education. Families are struggling financially, bearing the added financial burden of childcare for school-aged children. Unpredictable school situations are causing anxiety for kids and parents who fear students are “falling behind.”