Update, Oct. 6, 10:35 a.m.:
Mayor Scott Avedisian issued a statement calling today’s closing of Pilgrim due to teacher absences “extremely disappointing and disheartening.”
Avedisian had participated in the mediation process that led to a contract approved by the school committee but ultimately rejected by the union. A separate arbitration process continues, and Avedisian said he expects a decision within the next month
The mayor’s full statement follows:
“As the community is aware, the Warwick Teachers’ Union and the Warwick School Committee have been working toward a resolution of the outstanding issues surrounding the teachers’ contract. There have been numerous mediation sessions, in which I have taken part, and while it appeared that an agreement was near, unfortunately, both sides reached an impasse.
“This morning, I spoke with School Committee Chairwoman Beth Furtado, who said the Committee would be willing to go back to mediation in the hopes of resolving the contract dispute. I expect that the Teachers’ Union will also return to the table in a good faith effort to reach an agreement.
“In the meantime, the reported sickout at Pilgrim High School, which forced the cancellation of classes there today, is extremely disappointing and disheartening.”
Original post, Oct. 6, 6:48 a.m.:
WARWICK — Pilgrim High School classes were cancelled early this morning as rumors of a teacher “sick out” circulated late this week were apparently supported by a large number of teachers – 75 – calling in sick, according to Superintendent Phil Thornton.
Darlene Netcoh, President of the Warwick Teachers’ Union (WTU), said the rumors began after a union meeting Wednesday, but there was no vote to organize a sick out.
“In fact, when someone tried to discuss sick out language, I stifled it,” Netcoh said.
Netcoh said she didn’t know why individual teachers had called in sick, but noted there are some legitimate reasons that are likely, including a cold that is circulating, unhealthy air conditions reported at the school, and stress.
The stress of going to school daily without knowing how violations of the teacher’s expired contract will alter their school day, “…can weigh on teachers, too,” Netcoh said.
On Thursday afternoon, Thornton sent a phone message to parents about his concerns, “We have received several credible reports that the Warwick Teachers Union is pressuring its membership to “call out” sick tomorrow, Friday October 6th, at Pilgrim High School as a way of protesting the state of teacher contract negotiations,” Thornton wrote a t 2 p.m..
“But please be advised that in the event that we do have to cancel school due to inadequate staffing at Pilgrim, we will notify parents through our phone messaging system and email and send students home in the same manner in which school closes early due to severe weather,” he said.
At 5:45 a.m. today, Thornton sent a second message to parents.
“As you are aware, we received several credible reports yesterday that Pilgrim High School teachers were planning a “sick-out” for today, Friday, October 6th. As a result my staff and I monitored the situation throughout the night and early this morning. It became clear that the rumor was in fact true. When the numbers rose to a level that we could not safely open the school due to the large number of teaching staff that had called out sick, we made the decision to cancel school at Pilgrim.,” Thornton wrote.
“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 today hurts students and does nothing to bring the two sides closer together to resolve the contract,” he said.
Netcoh said the WTU remains willing to continue negotiations with the School Department.