Ben Jacob, a special education teacher at Powell Elementary School in D.C., tapes a sign to his car window before a protest last month against the city’s plan to reopen classrooms. (Evelyn Hockstein for The Washington Post)

The Washington Teachers’ Union voted Tuesday against authorizing a strike, with the union’s lawyer informing a judge that the more than 4,000-member group has no plans to participate in a strike or work stoppage.

The declaration prompted the city’s lawyers to withdraw a request for a temporary restraining order against the union over allegations that the group had been deliberating on a potential strike.

The groups have been fighting for months over how and when to safely reopen schools during the pandemic. Amid protests, the city partially reopened schools last week for the first time since March.

The union’s vote — and the city’s subsequent withdrawal of its request — brought a momentary calm to tensions between the two groups, although significant disagreements over coronavirus safety protocols remain.

D.C. Superior Court Judge Hiram Puig-Lugo was scheduled to hear arguments Tuesday to determine whether he should grant the restraining order to prevent the union from planning a strike. In the District, it is illegal for public workers to go on strike.

The hearing started at 10 a.m., but the judge quickly dismissed everyone after learning that the union’s vote would be finalized later in the day. It resumed at 3 p.m., and the union’s attorney, Daniel Rosenthal, informed the judge of the vote results. The members voted against giving permission to the union’s executive board to authorize any form of collective action against reopening, which could include striking or teaching remotely without permission.

The city’s attorney, Rahsaan Dickerson, said that the city would withdraw its request but asked the union leaders to commit to sending its members a cease and desist notice if they discuss another strike in the coming weeks.

“We don’t want to focus and waste resources on having this fight again,” Dickerson said.

Rosenthal said that without talking to the leadership, he could speak only to the latest union vote.

The judge said the “conversation is moot” and dismissed the court.

The request for a temporary restraining order was part of a larger city complaint filed against the union, arguing that the group’s deliberations over a strike were in violation of city law. A hearing on the complaint is scheduled for May 7.

When schools reopened last week, Washington Teachers’ Union President Elizabeth Davis said she encouraged her members to show up to work if they could. While she has not publicly said whether she believes the union should strike, she has told members that strikes were illegal and could have severe consequences.

“Where I stand is irrelevant. I am simply the representative who the members voted for,” Davis said in an interview. “That’s what every union leader ought to do. We need to inform our members of what the law is, period.” 

D.C. completes a week of in-person classes: Low attendance, frustrated teachers, confident principals and happy students

The union has argued that the school system is not following agreed-upon safety protocols to reopen school buildings. The District has disputed that, and a mediator largely agreed with the city.

On Tuesday, Davis and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten called on the city to establish clear guidelines to determine when schools should shut down. In a letter, they cited virus cases detected in five school buildings last week, which forced those from classrooms in the buildings to quarantine and switch to remote learning for 14 days. The city provides testing to asymptomatic students and staff members every two weeks.

“Unfortunately, the number of cases in our schools over the past few weeks gives us great concern that the District is putting the health of our city’s educators and students at risk,” the letter to city leaders read.

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