Judge grants TRO to prevent more school closings

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Associate Justice Susan McGuirl of Kent County Superior Court ruled Monday in support of a temporary restraining order to prevent large numbers of teachers from calling out sick as a means to shut down school operations.

The parties will return to court on Friday, Oct. 27 to discuss the department’s request for “injunctive relief,” essentially a permanent restraining order against these types of school closures.

The ruling came as the result of Warwick Superintendent Philip Thornton filing an injunction against the Warwick Teachers’ Union last Thursday, following the closing of Pilgrim High School on Oct. 6 where 74 of 144 teachers called out sick and the closing of Veterans Junior High School on Oct. 11, where 59 of 91 teachers were reported out as sick.

On Monday three elementary schools – Robertson, Oakland Beach and Park – were closed due to insufficient staffing as well. More than half the total number of teachers reported sick from each school (21 of 35 at Robertson, 23 of 40 at Oakland Beach and 17 of 33 at Robertson). In total, five schools have been shut down in less than two weeks due to high levels of teacher absences.

The injunction alleges that such closings, which the administration refers to as “sick outs,” are “tantamount to an illegal strike” and “constitute an illegal work stoppage” which, “if not restrained,” will cause undue harm to the district’s students, create a financial burden on the school department and disrupt the schedules of those who have children in the affected schools.

Attorney Jeffrey Kasle, representing the Warwick Teachers’ Union, told McGuirl during the hearing that he objected to the use of the term “sick out,” as the union has to date taken no such vote to orchestrate any such activity that would constitute as a work stoppage, which would be illegal under Rhode Island law.

“I say that as far as I know, teachers are sick,” he said to reporters after the hearing. “I don’t know of teachers who are abusing the sick leave process. There may be some but I don’t know of any in that regard. I think it’s convenient for the school committee to indicate that, because a lot of teachers happen to be sick on a particular day, that it’s a sick out at this coincidental point in time.”

“A sick out, as that term is used in labor relations, anticipates or looks to concerted activity – that everybody got together, they talked about it and they decided they were going to do something,” he continued. “There’s absolutely no evidence to suggest that, and in fact the union has done nothing to encourage that type of conduct in any manner, shape or form.”

Attorney Andrew Henneous, representing the school committee, presented numbers to the judge that the schools in question had only single digit numbers in terms of sick teachers before the massive increases on the days they had to be closed, and the numbers then went back into the single digits following the closure. Henneous said it “simply defies logic” that so many teachers could be legitimately sick on the same day, only to return to work again at the same time, at multiple schools across the district.

Kasle, however, said he didn’t find those numbers to be suspicious. “I think it’s coincidental. I don’t think it’s suspicious,” he said.

Thornton did not agree with this stance.

“I still don’t buy that. The facts are as they are,” he said. “As you heard in court, at Vets before the proceeding there were maybe four teachers out, then 59, and then maybe three the following day. To me, it is what it is. I would add, at Oakland Beach we had several teachers put sub plans in [last week] that say Monday on them. So clearly on Friday they knew they would be out today. It is what it is. It’s a sick out.”

McGuirl said in her ruling that she agreed with the school administration’s assertion that any continued closings due to mass absences would “constitute irreparable harm,” as was charged in the injunction, to the children of the Warwick public school district and that the children’s welfare should be the “main concern” moving forward.

The administration argued in their injunction that closing schools especially does harm to the approximately 1,531 students with special needs and the approximately 3,500 students who receive free or reduced lunches through the schools.

“The most important aspect of school is having the teacher in front of the students. The sick out in no way helps the educational process,” Thornton said. “It really hurts the kids every day that they’re out.”

When asked if teachers who were legitimately sick would be in risk of violating this order, Thornton said that the restraining order would only apply to events where enough staff call out to close the schools.

“They certainly do [have the right to call out if they’re legitimately sick]. I think today’s court decision helps us in terms of we won’t have mass numbers of people calling out sick,” he said. “Certainly people do get sick, however not in the numbers we’ve seen at the schools so far.”

The union and administration are still scheduled to meet on Wednesday evening at City Hall with Mayor Scott Avedisian and third party mediator Vincent Ragosta, and the results of interest arbitration could be released any day, although there is no definite date for that to happen.

Adding to the dialogue now are parents of students in Warwick schools, who have organized a protest outside City Hall and the Gorton Administration Building on that same Wednesday at 3 p.m.

Should teachers engage in another mass calling out of school, resulting in a school closure, those teachers would be in direct violation of the temporary restraining order and could be arrested for violating a court order. Despite the timing of the injunction, Thornton said that he was still hopeful for a positive result of Wednesday’s mediation session. Kasle agreed.

“The union is always hopeful to get an agreement,” Kasle said. “That’s been the goal for the last two years, to get an agreement with the school committee on terms that are fair to both parties, and they continue to work towards that.”

Union president Darlene Netcoh deferred to comments from Kasle for the purposes of this article, as the issue is an ongoing legal matter.

Comments

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PaulHuff

Pathetic that the WTU needs to be told by a judge that their work stoppage is hurting children. It’s akin to a batterer telling the victim they were beaten for their own good.

And even more pathetic is the WTU claiming all these sickouts are purely a coincidence. Don’t insult the people’s intelligence.

Tuesday, October 17
Justanidiot

I pity the teacher who is truly sick and takes time off work. The union's action has given another target to put on their member's backs.

Tuesday, October 17
LindaMc11

Pathetic that they have been working without a contract for 3 years and the conditions that they and the students work under but we have a nice new air conditioned administrative building.

Tuesday, October 17
PaulHuff

Linda,

You can’t refuse to ratify a decent proposal (both sides should be unhappy in a good negotiation) and then whine that there isn’t a deal in place.

And are you really so petty to complain that admin offices have air conditioning? You act like one of those never-Trumpers who complain about everything.

Tuesday, October 17
Kammy

LindaMc11

Offers were made and rejected by the WTU numerous times. They are without a contract because they want to have every single one of their issues resolved in their favor. That isn't how contract negotiations work. Once they realized they weren't going to get what they wanted they resorted to manipulation. The end result is they lost a lot of public support. We all agree teachers should have a contract. We all agree that both sides have valid concerns. Only some of us agree that only one side should walk away with the pot of gold.

Tuesday, October 17
Thecaptain

Correction Linda,

The teachers have been without a contract for 2 years, not 3. Remember, contracts are dictated by fiscal year. You may have forgotten that, maybe you are a math teacher. Please dont compare window air conditioning units with the contract. 30K was spent on air conditioners, each percent of increase in salary amounts to $1 million bucks. And by the way, the administrators work all summer. Last I checked air conditioning is utilized in the summer. If the job is so awful and the contract sucks so bad, why arent any of the teachers jumping ship and going elsewhere? I guess the teachers forget when they had the best healthcare that money can buy and their contribution was $11 per pay period. They are still not happy being in the top 3% for teacher salary out of 14,000 US school districts, and in the top 2% in the benefits department. NOT ANOTHER PENNY FOR THE PIGS, NOT A PENNY !!

Now they want retro active raises for the past 2 years when they worked to rule. Obnoxious requests that have shined the light on the substandard teachers that produce and inferior product. I never see a teacher at a budget hearing when the nearly 1 billion dollars of unfunded Warwick liabilities are discussed. Another reminder of the sub par effort and product on the part of the Warwick teachers. Graduating seniors are leaving Warwick with a 11% proficiency in science and 17% proficiency in math. Great job teachers, pat yourselves on the back !! How about this, why not fire the 60+% of teachers that dont live in Warwick and dont pay Warwick taxes. Replace them with Warwick residents.

Tuesday, October 17
richardcorrente

This problem is getting worse by the day.

The ONLY solution is to sit at a negotiating table and negotiate a new contract.

For the sake of our students, I hope that is happening.

Rick Corrente

Tuesday, October 17
bendover

ENOUGH! Print the whole, last best offer in this newspaper for taxpayers to see with their own eyes. Let's see who the bigger liar is? If this "august" school committee objects, remind them how it gets paid...The next step for angry taxpayers will be to hold tax payments in escrow by the thousands...

Tuesday, October 17
Powerof0

I am finding humor in the fact that the same 5-6 folks comment on most every article and have solved the problems of Warwick. When in fact all you are doing is giving your opinion be it fact based or not, because at the end of the day you are not on the WSC, WCC, or the Mayor so you can go to meetings speak your minds write your posts here all you need to and complain about the folks who actually have the vote. The fact of the matter is you have no more power than any other taxpayer and no matter what you say that is the fact, so you all keep chirping away if that’s what makes it easier for you.

Tuesday, October 17
richardcorrente

Dear Bendover,

You have a great idea!

Let both sides PRINT their latest offer for everyone to see and let the public respond.

It's called TRANSPARENCY and I have been an advocate of it for many years. Let's face it, BOTH sides are paid by the taxpayers.

Great comment. "ENOUGH!"

Happy Autumn Bendover.

Happy Autumn everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

Tuesday, October 17
ThatGuyInRI

It's a sign of the apocalypse.

I agree with Corrente.

The SC should make public their offer so we can see what it is, and the WTU should do the same. THEN, people could make informed opinions...what a novelty,

Wednesday, October 18
Kammy

Powerof0

Some of us have been around longer than others. Dare I say, long enough to know exactly what political machinations are going on behind closed doors. Some read the contract data that is available online. Others actually exercise the use of the freedom of information act and go to the town hall to get the filed meeting paperwork. Most understand exactly how the roles of Superintendent and Union President operate in this state and can discern what is being said, as well as, what is not being said. And lastly, all have the right to comment on an article as long as it is not harassment, discrimination or racist in nature.

Wednesday, October 18
Justanidiot

Sure, make the ongoing negotiations public. We don't have enough cooks in the kitchen now. And I say the negotiation soup needs more salt. Lot's more salt.

Wednesday, October 18
Powerof0

In Cumberland, he would be leaving behind a pending union dispute over stipends for advanced degrees and a newly filed lawsuit by the former athletic director who is charging the town with violations of federal Title IX legislation.

There is some irony in Warwick’s other choice for superintendent, McEwen. Thornton has railed against the state funding formula since arriving in Cumberland that has forced Cumberland schools to send millions of dollars to that quickly-growing charter school system. The BVP tuition for this year will be $3.2 million.

Wednesday, October 18
Powerof0

Kammy,

FYI my father was a Superintendent for 20 years so I get the job probably better than most do that said. My point is look who is commenting on here the same 5-6 people NON OF WHICH have any true power within the politics of the city of Warwick.

I would like to correct you on a few points here:

• The superintendent of Warwick Schools is Dr. Phillip Thornton not Thorton as you repeatedly call use his name IE your comment yesterday.

• Just 6 months ago he did not tell the public about egregious health and safety issues risking the health and wellbeing of anyone who entered the buildings in issue . Remember the parents calling for his head?

• As for his legacy in Cumberland that you see as so successful : “In Cumberland, he would be leaving behind a pending union dispute over stipends for advanced degrees and a newly filed lawsuit by the former athletic director who is charging the town with violations of federal Title IX legislation.”

• “There is some irony in Warwick’s other choice for superintendent, McEwen. Thornton has railed against the state funding formula since arriving in Cumberland that has forced Cumberland schools to send millions of dollars to that quickly-growing charter school system. The BVP tuition for this year will be $3.2 million.” So in 2016 the tax payers of Cumberland payed $3.2 million to BVP and I am not sure they see the same success you do.

While the recent events of a sick out action may not have been the best move I can guarantee the support for the teachers has not completely fallen off by evidence of support signs around the city.

The thing I can tell you for FACT is we as the Warwick tax payers are being played by the government entities in place in this city…

Wednesday, October 18
Kammy

Powerof0

DR. THORTON'S work in Cumberland was not all negative. I find it interesting that you choose to ignore that fact and focus on what you believe was missteps. It reminds me of how you chose to ignore the fact that the WSC has made an effort to resolve this dispute. I believe that both sides are at fault here in Warwick. I believe that while each have some great points, they are drowned out in the political game they are both playing.

I support teachers. I do not support the teacher's union. I am appalled by their own rhetoric regarding the sick out and believe it did much to corrode the trust that the citizens have in them. All the signs on lawns don't really mean much. After all, failed mayoral candidates also had signs in people's front lawn but it didn't equate to winning votes, now did it?

We have no way of knowing whether or not your statement regarding your father is true. You could be, oh maybe chirping away as I have no way of verifying that fact but I will set that aside as I don't really care that much about the validity of the claim.

Finally, we all have the same right to post what we want, when we want, about what we want. "The fact of the matter is you have no more power than any other taxpayer and no matter what you say that is the fact, so you all keep chirping away if that’s what makes it easier for you." Ditto Powerof0

Wednesday, October 18
CrickeeRaven

Hell again Kammy:

My compliments for replying to Mr. [or Ms.] Zero; s/he clearly does not value the opportunity for readers to share their thoughts and have an online community forum. I don't recall anyone begging or forcing Zero to join the conversation on this site, nor do I remember anyone asking Zero's opinion about our relative authority on relevant topics in Warwick.

So, essentially we have another in an increasing list of union shills -- "I can guarantee the support for the teachers has not completely fallen off by evidence of support signs around the city" -- trying and failing to somehow make the recent union stunts seem more reasonable.

Good job on not falling for it. If I may also suggest, let's not reply to Zero any further and let another trolling commenter wither on the vine.

Oh, and Zero: Don't bother replying, I won't be reading any more comments under your moniker.

Wednesday, October 18
CrickeeRaven

Of course, I meant "hello, Kammy."

Wednesday, October 18
Bg9385

There's Raven! I was wondering how long before you decided to chime in by copying and pasting quotes from articles and quotes from other commenters. Keep trying, sport. Did you send in those tax payments at the end of last quarter? Don't want you forgetting your tax dollars funnel into "useless" teachers who don't deserve jobs. Did you catch the article about the 90 sick days? What a barn burner that article was. I noticed you haven't commented on it yet. How come? Not enough quotable information? Or is it because it deals with numbers and math and that sort of thing involves actual thinking. I'm looking forward to your useless banter the rest of the week. Hugs and kisses.

-One of the shrills

Wednesday, October 18
Kammy

CrickeeRaven - hook, line and sinker! LOL Hello to you as well.

Wednesday, October 18
Powerof0

WTU which is the teachers union is comprised of teachers!

Thursday, October 19
CrickeeRaven

Media reports this morning [Oct. 19] are that a tentative agreement was reached early this morning:

https://warwickpost.com/mediator-wtu-school-committee-reach-tentative-agreement/

http://turnto10.com/news/local/warwick-parents-join-teachers-in-protest-against-school-district

Thursday, October 19