Warwick teachers stage picket following “sick out”

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) – Warwick teachers formed a picket line Thursday morning outside Warwick Veterans Junior High School, just one day after staging a “sick out.”

School was canceled Wednesday at Warwick Veterans Junior High School after nearly two-thirds of the staff called out sick amid a longstanding contract dispute. Warwick Superintendent Philip Thornton said on Thursday only four teachers were out sick at the school.

Of the 91 staffers at the school, 59 called out on Wednesday.

In a statement, Thornton said:

“The number of faculty absences has risen to a level that we can not safely open the school. Due to this, we made the decision to cancel school at Vets. The most important element of school is having the regular classroom teacher working with students each and every day.  A teacher “sick-out” like the one we experienced Friday and again today hurts students and does nothing to bring the two sides closer together to resolve the contract.”

Wednesday’s cancellation comes on the heels of last Friday’s sickout at Pilgrim High School where more than 70 teachers were absent, forcing Thornton to cancel classes there.

Some Warwick parents say they’re fed up with the protests, calling it a “tug of war” between the Warwick School Committee and the Warwick Teachers Union.

Warwick parent Ted Larson said the ones most at stake are the students.

“There are some kids who really want to be here and they like when there are snow days, but this isn’t within their control,” Larson said. “They are innocent victims.”

Warwick Teachers Union President Darlene Netcoh said there’s no official approval behind Wednesday’s “sick out.”

“The union as a whole has not taken any kind of vote for any type of job action,” Netcoh said. “It’s hard for parents to really take that at face value.”

Larson is not only a Warwick parent, but he’s also beein involved in the Parent Teachers Association in the past.

He advocates for the the student and the teacher, but also says this longstanding contract dispute is taking a toll.

“As a community member, it’s not good,” Larson said. “It’s not helping our property values. They are continuing to close schools. Our enrollment is down.”

Warwick school staffers have been working without a contract for two years.

A meeting was held at Toll Gate High School Tuesday night to discuss the ongoing contract negotiations, which are reportedly behind the sickouts. At the meeting, the teachers’ union voted no confidence in school district leadership, specifically Thornton and School Committee Chair Bethany Furtado.

“I am concerned with the tone that it has taken in the last week, and I am asking for cooler heads to prevail,” Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian said Wednesday.

Avedisian said he shares parents’ frustration and apologized for any inconvenience to families.

“We have the next mediation session here in this office a week from today,” he added. “The only real answer is a new contract and to have people willing to come to the table and get that done.”

A spokesperson for the state Department of Education said the schools that canceled will have to make up the missed days.

“We’re continuing to monitor the situation, and Warwick has been notified that they will not be granted a waiver for the days missed. The schools in question will be expected to meet the state’s requirements on instructional time.”

Warwick resident John Spagnolo said this makes sense because students shouldn’t be short changed for their education. But what isn’t fine, is the stalemate occurring between the teachers and the School Committee.

“I hope they get a contract in place and they can put this all in the rear view mirror,” Spagnolo said. “There has to be some concessions made in order to get this behind us and let everybody get back to doing what they are really good at, which is taking care of our kids.”