"The PTA Disbands" is the 21st episode of The Simpsons' sixth season. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on April 16, 1995. In the episode, Edna Krabappel calls an emergency strike on behalf of the Teachers' Union of Springfield Elementary, to protest against Principal Skinner's miserly school spending.
The episode was written by Jennifer Crittenden and directed by Swinton O. Scott III, with David Mirkin serving as show-runner. The episode includes cultural references to a number of books highlighted by Edna Krabappel as having been banned by other schools – including William Shatner's TekWar, Steal This Book by Abbie Hoffman, and The Theory of Evolution by Charles Darwin. The episode received favorable mention in books on The Simpsons and media reviews, and was cited by academicians, who analyzed portions of the episode from physics and psychology perspectives. During a 2004 strike by voice actors for The Simpsons during salary negotiations, media sources cited an iconic quote from Homer to Lisa in the episode about the teachers' strike.
After a failed attempt at a school field trip, Edna Krabappel calls an emergency strike on behalf of the Teachers' Union of Springfield Elementary, to protest against Principal Skinner's miserly spending on the school. The school is closed and students cope in their own ways. The parents of Springfield attempt to act as substitute teachers until the strike is over but this is deemed unsuccessful. Eventually, the two sides are forced into talking and think of a resolution: using the school to house prisoners from the overcrowded prison system, thus generating money and returning the school to normal.
The episode was written by Jennifer Crittenden. She came in to the writers' room and pitched the idea that there should be a teachers' strike in an episode. Then-show runner David Mirkin thought the episode had a lot of potential, and much of it is based on his experience as a child with schools running out of money. Despite the title of the episode, at no point does the PTA (Parent-Teacher Association) actually disband. The title was suggested by Mirkin and was intended to poke fun at Crittenden, who thought the most exciting part of the teachers going on strike would be that the PTA might disband. In addition to this, Mirkin added a character to the episode who, on thinking the PTA has disbanded, jumps panicking out of a window. He jumps back in the same window when he is told the PTA has not disbanded.
The episode was directed by Swinton O. Scott III. In the opening shot of the episode, the bus that the children travel in to the field trip had to vibrate up and down to give the impression that it did not have bumpers and that it was falling apart. Scott said it was difficult to animate the scene because of the vibrating and the backgrounds panning. Milhouse's tutor in the episode is based on the American actor Tony Randall.
In its original broadcast, "The PTA Disbands" finished 69th in ratings for the week of April 13–19, 1995, with a Nielsen rating of 7.1. It was the 8th highest-rated show on the Fox network that week.
In their book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood describe "The PTA Disbands" as "Possibly the best of the school episodes." In a review of the sixth season of The Simpsons, Colin Jacobson of DVD Movie Guide writes: "I especially like the contrasts between how Bart and Lisa accept the strike. The show doesn’t quite manage to soar consistently, but it has more than enough to make it positive." In his review of the episode for TV Squad, Adam Finley comments: "I love how Bart and Lisa both handle the news differently. Bart is thrilled ... Lisa, on the other hand, can't handle not being graded and evaluated every day, and slowly begins to lose her mind."
In 2004, when the voice actors for The Simpsons went on strike requesting additional income, The Scotsman cited a quote by Homer from the episode: "If you don't like your job, you don't strike. You just go in every day and do it really half-assed. That's the American Way." The Scotsman asserted "Homer would not approve" of the strike by the voice actors. The voice actors were asking for an increase from US$125,000 to $360,000 per episode. The same quote by Homer to Lisa was cited by Michael Schneider in Daily Variety, who wrote: "...insiders note that the actors work just six to seven hours to voice an episode --- which would mean $ 360,000 for a day's work, a figure that even Everybody Loves Raymond star Ray Romano doesn't match."
University of the Sciences in Philadelphia physics and mathematics professor Paul Halpern discusses the episode in his book What's Science Ever Done for Us?: What the Simpsons Can Teach Us About Physics, Robots, Life, and the Universe, and quotes Homer's admonition to Lisa: "Lisa, in this house, we obey the laws of thermodynamics!" at the beginning of Halpern's section on "Mechanical Plots". Halpern describes Lisa's efforts to build a perpetual-motion machine while bored during the teachers strike, and comments that though it is absurd in reality to order someone to obey the laws of thermodynamics, he acknowledges that "physicists sometimes don't know the proper arena within which certain laws apply". In the July 26, 2007 issue of Nature, the scientific journal's editorial staff listed "The PTA Disbands" among "The Top Ten science moments in The Simpsons", writing: "Lisa gets so bored by a lack of schooling she builds a perpetual motion machine. Homer is not pleased: 'Lisa, in this house we OBEY the laws of thermodynamics.'"
The episode is cited by Robert M. Arkin and Philip J. Mazzocco in their work "Self-Esteem in Springfield", in the compilation book The Psychology of The Simpsons. Arkin and Mazzocco note an exchange between Edna Krabappel and Seymour Skinner, where Skinner exclaims to Krabappel: "Oh come on Edna: We both know these kids have no future! [All the children stop and look at him; he chuckles nervously] Prove me wrong, kids. Prove me wrong." Arkin and Mazzocco note that this example is seen as an exception, writing: "Generally, however, the Simpsons are right on target in their understanding of the importance of self-esteem and the dynamics involved in the interplay between the social world and positive self-regard."