School Talk

Judge Comes Down on Side of District and Grants Restraining Order

It is sad that a school district superintendent has to spend his day in court just to get his teachers to come to school, but that is the depressing story playing out in Warwick, Rhode Island.

Here in the littlest state in the union we awoke to news that three more schools—elementary ones this time—would be closed today because too many teachers had called in sick for the school to be able to function. Last week it was a middle school and the week before that it was a high school. All closed due to teacher sick-outs.

Parents are obviously scrambling more today than in previous weeks because all of the students affected are elementary age and parents had zero notice to get childcare plans in place.


While teachers are certainly enjoying support from some parents, there is zero justification for this action, especially in a district that doesn’t have a contract because of the union’s unreasonable demands. Kelly Smith, a Warwick mother of 4 disagrees with me and has organized a parent protest in support of teachers this coming Wednesday. She wrote and issued a press release and said this:

“This is just getting ridiculous,” said Kelly Smith, a Ward 9 parent with four children at three different Warwick schools. “We parents are tired of our teachers being vilified on social media  and misrepresented in the press. We know this is not about money. We know these teachers are fighting for our children. My profoundly disabled daughter is home from school today due to these sick-outs, and though it’s inconvenient, I support it. I support the Warwick Teachers Union 100 percent!”

September marked the start of the third school year without a contract for Warwick teachers. The biggest sticking points, contrary to what’s been reported in the press, are class sizes and insufficient resources regarding special education.

“So many people out there are misinformed and believe this is all about the money,” said Smith. “It’s not. It’s about what’s fair for our children!”

Kerri Mark, a parent in Ward 1, also has four children in the Warwick school system. Mark and her husband bought their house nearly two years ago and are starting to second guess that decision.

“We stay for the teachers,” said Mark, “but we’ll leave because of the administration. They’re the reason families are leaving and will continue to leave.”

It is curious that Smith, when asked by local radio host, Dan Yorke, if she’d even spoken to the Superintendent about what she’s protesting, her answer was “No.” When pressed on specifics by Yorke, she seemed to lack some pretty important and fundamental knowledge about the actual reasons for the contractual impasse.

Jeffrey Kasle, however, has made the most laughable and dishonest comments on the situation. He is the teachers’ union’s lawyer and today he denied, in front of a judge, that there was even a sick-out happening. Channelling our illustrious Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, one would have to be a moron to believe that.

From the Providence Journal:

Jeffrey Kasle, a lawyer for the union, denied there was a sick out in play.

He said no votes have been taken and the union is not encouraging “it, whatever it is,” Kasle said.

“There are a variety of reasons teachers can be absent for school,” he said.

While it may be true that no official vote was taken, this attorney is lying. But just to be sure, let’s take a look at the numbers provided by the superintendent’s office and printed by the Providence Journal.

According to the superintendent’s office, 23 of 40 teachers at Oakland Beach called in sick; 17 of 33 at Park and 21 of 35 at Robertson.

Additionally, according to Mayor Scott Avedisian’s office, Greenwood Elementary School is open with the assistance of long-term substitute teachers from the three closed schools.

The School Department’s court filing says the first sick out occurred on Oct. 6 at Pilgrim High school. Approximately 74 out of 144 teachers called in sick requiring the Administration to cancel school that day as they could not secure enough substitute coverage to ensure the health and safety of students. The second “sick out” occurred on October 11, 2017 at Veterans Junior High School. Approximately 59 out of 91 teachers called in “sick” requiring the Administration to cancel school that day as they could not secure enough substitute coverage to ensure the health and safety of students.

So while it’s true that the teachers have been working without a contract since 2015, there are legitimate reasons for that.

For example, the union will not settle for only 18 sick days.  And regarding their demands to limit the number of special education students per class, the Superintendent and school committee have offered them the same language as any other district’s contract in the state. They have said No to that offer as well.

And none of this takes into account the backdrop of a staggering decline in student enrollment and subsequent underutilization of space. Despite the plummeting enrollment, the union is opposed to any reduction in staff.

As reported by Channel 10 in August:

Warwick enrollment is down more than 50 percent since the 1970s — from a high of about 19,000 to just 9.000 students.

The city went from three middle schools and three high schools, to just two of each.

Next fall, Warwick will go from 16 elementary schools, to just 13.

“Each school has its identity, has its legacy, has its traditions and its pride,” Wagner said. “The question is at what point can you afford to continue a school’s operation?”

All of that aside, as of this moment, a judge has sided with the Warwick school system and issued a restraining order barring further sick-outs. Local media also reports that the Superintendent is pleased with the decision in court today.


One final note: Superintendent Phil Thornton served as my town of Cumberland’s superintendent prior to taking the job in Warwick. I was on the elected school committee that hired him. And while he and I had our disagreements over some issues related to charter school funding, he proved himself to be a leader who always put students first. He was uniquely skilled at drowning out the noise and staying focused on the goal of changing the culture of the district and turning the ship around. And he did exactly that.

What do you think?

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