10/4/07

Teachers' strike, Day 3

Harrison Hills (OH) administrators went to court to seek a restraining order limiting the number of pickets at each school entrance as the district’s teacher strike entered its third day Wednesday. The hearing ultimately was delayed as lawyers for both sides hammered out a compromise, to which Common Pleas Judge Michael Nunner agreed.

After about seven hours, lawyers came to an agreement that allows a varying number of pickets at each school, not only at parking lot entrances but also on sidewalks. Some teachers have congregated at houses across from schools, and district Superintendent Jim Drexler said the negotiations did not address private property.

School entrances have been scenes of controversy during the strike. Union negotiators alleged they were injured by security vans, and administrators claimed the teachers were purposely blocking the vans, which are owned by Huffmaster Crisis Management, the firm the district hired to provide security and substitutes.

Hopedale teacher Cheryl Wells was treated Monday in Trinity Medical Center West at Steubenville after a Huffmaster van allegedly hit her from behind. John Avouris, a consultant with the Ohio Education Assn., said a Huffmaster van ran over his foot Tuesday at Hopedale. Both are members of the union negotiating team.

Hopedale Police Chief Ron Bone said the incidents remain under investigation.

At Hopedale Elementary on Wednesday, teachers walked in circles, sometimes dancing, for two minutes before allowing a Huffmaster van to leave the parking lot. Then they immediately crowded back onto the driveway to walk for another two minutes before allowing a second van to pass.

“We teach our kids to take turns,” teacher Judy Burriss shouted.

Others were chanting “Hollywood,” a nickname they’d given to a Huffmaster guard who has been recording video of the pickets.

Marsha Hennis, picket captain for Hopedale, explained that under the law pickets have a certain timeframe to clear the way after someone indicates he wants to leave. The union observed a two-minute rule.

Under the new court agreement, the union will not be permitted to hinder the coming or going of people or vehicles from school property, according to a press release from the school board. For example, union members will not be allowed to surround vehicles as they enter or exit at a building.

“The schools have had many incidents in which striking teachers and the union leadership physically blocked the arrival of students, parents and substitute teachers, often intimidating them,” Superintendent Jim Drexler stated in the release.

“In addition, the teachers’ assertions of physical harm resulting from claims of bumping by vehicles would not have taken place had the teachers not placed themselves at risk of contact with vehicles.”

Union spokeswoman Linda Rusen stated in a release Wednesday that HHTA members will abide by the law and Nunner’s order.

“We have and will continue to be respectful of the law and the direction of local law enforcement officers,” Rusen stated.

Negotiations remained at a standstill Wednesday. Drexler said it would be up to the federal mediator to set up any bargaining sessions.

Striking teachers continued to voice their demand that any proposed contract prevent reprisal against not only teachers and their children but also against other parents and students who acted in support of the strike.

Specifically, Rusen said they didn’t want students whose parents held them out of school for the strike to be punished once matters are resolved.

Drexler has said discipline for attendance problems will remain as it was before the strike, leaving him with the possibility of having to reprimand hundreds of students if attendance remains low. About 36 percent of students showed up Wednesday, the same as Monday and 2 percent higher than Tuesday.

Harrison Central High students Jessica Donley and Justin Frontz, who joined the teachers in front of their school Wednesday morning, aired doubts about Drexler’s ability to keep enforcing attendance policy per usual.

“There’ll be so many irate parents if their students don’t get credit,” Frontz said in reference to a district policy that says missing 18 days precludes a student from earning credit for classes, or nine days for a semester-long class.

Ten unexcused absences normally would trigger truancy charges. However, Harrison County Prosecutor T. Shawn Hervey has said his office won’t file such charges.

“Attendance during the strike is within the sound discretion of the parents, and each family must decide how best to deal with the unfortunate reality of the strike,” a release from Hervey stated.

The union raised questions Wednesday about the qualifications of substitutes provided by Huffmaster, noting that some of them had applied for, but had not yet been granted, substitute licenses. Drexler said the law allows those people to teach while their applications are pending, but they can’t be paid until the licenses are received.

OEA representative Shelly Jackson, who is working with the union, also said Wednesday that the district’s request for parents of students with severe developmental disabilities to hold those students at home might violate state and federal standards regarding special education.

“Baselines have to be met, testing, monitory, and I don’t think they’re doing that,” Jackson said.

Drexler said that under the conditions of the strike, the district would have to deal with such issues on a day-by-day basis.

(timesreporter.com)

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