Schools could be closed tomorrow, according to a warning issued through the Connect-Ed system just before 2 pm today.
Superintendent Philip Thornton said, “We have received several credible reports that the Warwick Teachers Union is pressuring its membership to ‘call in’ sick tomorrow, Thursday, October 27th in an attempt to disrupt schooling as a way of protesting the state of teacher contract negotiations.” The superintendent said he learned of the possibility of a sickout Tuesday following meetings at several schools.
Warwick Teachers Union President Darlene Netcoh debunked any effort of a union coordinated sickout. “It’s a rumor. I’ve never pressured anyone to do anything …there’s no coordinated action,” she said in a telephone call. “He’s [Thornton] the one spreading rumors and causing trouble.”
Netcoh would not say whether union leadership had discussed a sickout. “I’m not going to discuss union business,” she said.
In an interview, Thornton was hopeful teachers won’t stage a sickout but said administrators would be carefully monitoring teacher attendance in the morning and would close schools if absenteeism was such that the district couldn’t staff schools.
“We can’t do anything until something occurs,” he said.
He said the matter would be treated like a weather-related closing with the decision based on numbers of teachers reporting sick rather than the threat or actual amount of falling snow. He couldn’t say whether this would be a system-wide closure or just certain schools.
Within minutes of being issued, the statement provoked a flurry of comments on social media, from criticism of Thornton for not closing the schools so parents could plan accordingly, to outrage directed at the teachers, as well as support for teachers.
“I support Warwick school teachers,” writes Shawana Scotti on the Community of Warwick Facebook page. “They do need a contract…I hope they do call in sick tomorrow. Get well soon.”
Nathan Cornell, who declared as a candidate for school committee and lost in the September primary, claimed in a post that the union has no intention of pressing teachers to call out sick. He charged the call to parents is an effort to divert attention from the school administration’s unpopular recommendation that was followed by the committee to consolidate elementary schools.
In the advisory to parents, Thornton acknowledges reports of a sickout could be “merely a rumor.” If schools have to be closed because of a lack of teachers, Thornton said parents would receive a call through the department messaging system as well as an email.