PETERS TOWNSHIP (KDKA) - After nearly a month, students went back to school today in Peters Township.
Teachers are required by law to head back to the classroom, despite an ongoing labor dispute.
Roughly, 4,300 students will be back in the classroom even though the teachers do not have a new contract. The teachers' strike came to an end after the maximum 21 days allowed under state law.
"He's been pretty bored, so yeah, he wanted to get back into school," said Mary Matsurra, referring to her son who's a sophomore at Peters Township High School.
Attendance was low for the first day back. The district reports of the 1,451 students who attend Peters Township High School, 696 were absent. At the middle school, 280 weren't in class. Participation was slightly better at the elementary schools.
"They probably have a lot of family in, and they're spending time with their family, I don't know, that's all I can think of," said Lisa Schmigel, who sent her two children to school. She wants them to get back into the routine after having so much time off.
Some parents aren't happy about their kids' long absence due to the strike.
"Disrupted, yes and now they have to go back like they've been out of school all summer," Valerie Flasck said.
Teachers at Peters Township Middle School gathered outside this morning in a show of solidarity.
Both the district and the union will head to a non-binding arbitrator, where they will present their best and final contract offers. Should they not reach an agreement, the teachers could strike again.
"We do now move on to non-binding final best offer arbitration," said Shelly Belcher, Communications Coordinator for the Peters Township School district.
"It needs to be over. They need to commit to arbitration and end it. That's what you teach your kids, to compromise, figure out what's best for everybody and end it," Becky Manhollan said.
"After 21 days they could've done that after day one," said Matsurra, "the same result, non-binding arbitration and the kids could have been in school. The parents do not understand why they chose to go to a strike so quickly."
"It's sad, like my daughter said, 'Mommie, I feel stuck.' That's exactly how you feel, stuck," Schmigel added.
Graduation is still on schedule, but the state has issued a new school calendar that reduces days off.
"School is back in session today. It does take away everything except for the big holidays. We're only out of school Christmas Day, New Year's Day, Good Friday," Belcher said.
Students are required to receive 180 days of classroom instruction each year. As a result of the 21-day strike, students won't get out of school until June 15. If there's a second strike, they won't finish until June 30.
"My seventh grader said, 'I could be in school the rest of my life if they strike again,'" Manhollan said.
In October, 285 teachers, counselors and nurses went on strike after their contract expired in August.
The district and union are at odds over salary, class size and the length of the work day.
So far, teachers have not said if they will go on strike again.
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