Judge bars work stoppage by Warwick teachers

Warwick Public Schools said three elementary schools are closed Monday: Oakland Beach, Park and Robertson. (WJAR)

A Kent County judge on Monday issued a temporary restraining order barring Warwick teachers from any work stoppage or sick-out, something the administration says has happened on three days in the past two weeks, but which the teachers' union denies.

Warwick Public Schools said three elementary schools were closed Monday because too many teachers called out sick. Classes were canceled at Oakland Beach, Park and Robertson elementary schools.

In a statement Sunday night announcing that Oakland Beach would be closed, a spokeswoman for Superintendent Dr. Philip Thornton said the district could not safely open the school because of the high number of faculty absences.

"This decision was based on staff requirements, student needs and programs in the building," a statement from Warwick Public Schools said.

Thornton later told NBC 10 News the "court decision helps us. We won't have the numbers of people calling out sick, people do get sick, however not the numbers we're seeing in the schools so far."

The school district said there were 23 absences out of 40 teachers at Oakland Beach, 17 absences out of 33 teachers at Park, and 21 absences out of 35 teachers at Robertson.

The attorney for the teachers’ union, Jeff Kasle, said the number of teachers absences are “coincidental, not suspicious,” also adding “the union has not engaged in any activity that would sanction or encourage a vote on anything that's happened."

A lack of teachers shut Pilgrim High School on Oct. 6 and Warwick Veterans Junior High on Oct. 11.

The teachers' union has said previously that sick calls were due to flu season and stress, but superintendent Philip Thornton said they were clearly a labor action.

Teachers have been working without a contract since 2015. The union voted no confidence in the superintendent and school committee chair.

Darlene Netcoh, president of the teachers union, told NBC 10 that what the superintendent is presenting to the press for salary proposals to is not the same as what he is offering in negotiations.

She noted that one of the major issues remains sick time. Teachers get 90 days every year that they also must use should they need any type of bereavement, maternity or disability time.

Class sizes and assignment of special education teachers to classes are a big issue after a large number of cuts were made, Netcoh said.

Meanwhile, a group of parents plans to protest in support of the teachers on Wednesday afternoon.

The next court hearing on the matter is scheduled for Oct.27.

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