TACOMA, Wash. – A judge said Monday he’s considering giving Washington state’s third-largest school district the option of replacing teachers on the picket line as a strike continued despite the judge’s order to return to work.

The unexpected comment from Pierce County Superior Court Judge Bryan Chushcoff came as Tacoma school district classes were canceled Monday and Tuesday due to the strike, the News Tribune reported.

“That came as quite a surprise,” district spokesman Dan Voelpel said. “We didn’t ask about that in court. He began speaking out loud about actions to impose next week.”

It would be up to the district to decide whether it wanted to hire temporary replacements, permanent replacements or come up with another plan altogether, Chushcoff said at a hearing Monday.

“I’m seriously considering doing that,” the judge said. “Those are all possibilities.”

The strike has idled 28,000 students and sent most of their 1,900 teachers to the picket lines. Teachers voted to strike Sept. 12 and voted again last week to remain on strike despite Chushcoff’s order to return to work.

State and local public employees, including teachers, have no legally protected right to strike, according to a 2006 state attorney general’s opinion. But that opinion also noted that state law lacks specific penalties for striking public employees.

The district has argued in court that 19 different judges in Washington state have ruled teacher strikes illegal since 1976. The union argued that the court should not inject itself into the bargaining process, and also suggested an injunction applies only to union leaders.

Talks between the union, the district and a state mediator restarted Monday as teachers demonstrated outside the city’s middle schools, Tacoma Education Association spokesman Rich Wood said. Major issues include pay, how job transfers are handled and class size.