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Dan Nerad file photo

Madison schools Superintendent Dan Nerad speaks during a School Board meeting in 2010.

Dane County Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi late Friday denied a Madison School District request to force teachers back into classrooms Monday.

But John Matthews, executive director of Madison Teachers Inc., the union for Madison's teachers, said teachers will return to the classroom Tuesday.

District officials said it's unclear whether classes will be held Monday.

The district late Friday filed for a temporary restraining order to bar teachers from taking part in any further work stoppages that have closed schools for three days this week. A day earlier, Superintendent Dan Nerad said in a letter to parents that the teachers should return to work.

"We know this is causing great strain to our families," Nerad said in an interview Friday on the work stoppage.

He said the district needed "legal clarification" on whether the three-day walkout was a strike.

A fuller hearing on the district's legal action is scheduled for Monday, but Nerad and Matthews suggested it may be canceled because of the teachers' pledge to show up for work Tuesday.

District calls action an illegal strike

In the lawsuit, the district characterized the work stoppage as a strike, which it said is prohibited by state law.

Sumi, however, denied the restraining order request, saying she was not convinced the district's argument would succeed as the suit moved through the legal system.

Sumi said there was not enough evidence to show the work stoppage is a strike under state law. She said the district made a more compelling argument that it has suffered irreparable harm in lost classroom time, but that also fell short.

In court, MTI lawyer Lester Pines argued it was not a strike because the union made no demands against the district, a requirement for a strike under state law.

Instead, he said, teachers were exercising their First Amendment right to express their feelings about Gov. Scott Walker's plan to limit collective bargaining.

"To do so they may be subjecting themselves to discipline, to having their pay docked, but they are making that choice individually," Pines argued.

District lawyer Dylan Pauly argued state law requires the lost classroom time to be made up, and that will be expensive for the district. 

Nerad said in the interview the district is still developing a plan for making up class time. He also said the district has incurred costs during the work stoppage, but the amount hasn't been tabulated.

Student learning will be affected by the walkouts, especially among students who aren't meeting state standards, he said. 

Nerad also said he wasn't sure how many parents called or e-mailed the School District in recent days, but about half were "very supportive" of the teachers while the other half were "very concerned that we don't have our kids back in school."

District action 'really foolish'

In 1993, a sick-out by Madison teachers closed six schools over two days.

Matthews said after the hearing Friday that teachers would return to the classroom Tuesday because other public sector unions said they probably would not return to the Capitol after Monday. District officials knew this, but still filed for the restraining order, he said.

"It was really foolish," Matthews said. "It made no sense to me."

Teacher absences will be investigated on a case-by-case basis, Nerad said.

Meantime, as Madison schools were closed for a third straight day Friday, other school districts in the area held classes after canceling them Thursday. They included Oregon and Verona.

"It really, truly, was a decision of conscience," Dean Gorrell, superintendent of the Verona School District, said of teachers who decided to come back and those who didn't. "They're terribly conflicted."

Also, Dane County YMCA's three branches reported 132 school children dropped off for emergency child care for working parents Friday. 

- Reporters Gena Kittner and George Hesselberg contributed to this report.