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Judge Bars St. Croix Teachers from Disrupting Classes, Delaying Grades

Feb. 11, 2008 — V.I. Superior Court Judge Julio Brady issued a temporary restraining order Monday to prevent members of the St. Croix Federation of Teachers from engaging in any protests or sick-outs, and ordering the union to "cease and desist from intentionally withholding student grades."
A hearing on making the restraining order a permanent injunction is scheduled in Brady's St. Croix courtroom for 10 a.m. Wednesday.
For the last few weeks, teachers have demonstrated during lunch breaks calling for the Office of Collective Bargaining to step up the pace of its ongoing contract negotiations with the two American Federation of Teachers locals in the territory. Last week there were several job actions at schools on St. Croix, with schools shut down because too many teachers called in sick.
Grades were due in by Jan. 30 at St. Croix Central High School, but most of the grades had not been turned in as of Feb. 8. The union says this is due to computer problems, not a work action.
A press conference was held at St. Croix's Government House Monday afternoon to announce the court order. Chief Negotiator Jessica Gallivan of the Office of Collective Bargaining was joined by acting Education Commissioner LaVerne Terry, Assistant Commissioner Donna Gregory and St. Croix Insular Superintendent of Schools Gary Molloy to present the government's position on the dispute and answer questions.
"Our main focus has to remain on the students," Terry said. "We have to emphasize our students getting the education they deserve. The activities of the last couple of weeks have been disruptive."
Schools must have the required number of school days, so makeup days have been scheduled for April 23 and 24 for time lost because of last week's sick-outs, she said.
The delay in getting grades posted is putting some students at risk of not getting scholarships and not having their grade-point averages available as they apply for college. It could also create problems with getting education money under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), Terry said.
"We must be in the position of encouraging students going to college, not putting impediments in their way," she said. "Also it is important we not do anything to jeopardize federal funds under NCLB. At this time I encourage everyone to work collaboratively."
Tyrone Molyneux, president of the St. Croix Federation of Teachers, has said that problems switching from an old floppy-disk based system to one using flash drives have played a role in delaying getting the grades turned in at Central. Molloy suggested this was not the case.
"The fact is, the grades were due in Jan. 30," Molloy said. "We extended that until Feb. 1. They still did not have grades. There was no mention of flash drives or a computer problem until Feb. 6."
Molloy also said teachers who were out during the days of the sick-outs would not be paid for that time.
"If they can prove they were sick before and after, fine, but they will not be paid for missing work during the sick-out," he said.
Asked about the union's desire for more time and days focused on their contract, Gallivan said they had scheduled as many days as they can.
"Remember, all parties have to be at the table," she said. "It is a process, and it will not happen overnight. We all have to be patient."
Meetings are scheduled for Feb. 14, 15, 19, 20, 21 and 22, as well as March 5, 6, 7, 17, 18, 26, 27 and 28, and April 17, 18, 29 and 30.
"This is more days than we've given any other union," she said. "There has never been a time we purposely suspended negotiations for any length of time. It is partly our and partly their calendar. We recognize the importance of a collective-bargaining agreement, both to the government and also how important it is to the teachers to have an agreement in place."
Education wants to get to a negotiated contract, too, Terry said.
"I don't want an impression that we don't care about teachers," she said. "We care a great deal about teachers. The fact we had to resort to legal action to protect the students should not interfere with negotiations. We call on the union and its membership to stay at the table and continue to work collaboratively with us."
Asked if the contract was taking an unusual length of time to settle, Gallivan said the last contract negotiation took a year and a half, and other unions were waiting their turn, too.
"We have some other contracts that have been expired as long as six years," she said. "Because we recognize the teacher's contract is so important, it went to the table in front of others."
Asked what the Office of Collective Bargaining was doing to reassure and assuage the teachers, Gallivan said her role was to continue negotiations and keep meeting with the unions to put together a contract.
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