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Woodson Jr. High Problems Prompt Walkout, Restraining-Order Request

Jan. 12, 2009 — Hundreds of students refused to go to class Monday at John H. Woodson Jr. High, marching to protest extending the school year and school day to make up for time lost because of excessive heat in the rooms and damage from Hurricane Omar.
In the classrooms, teachers didn't arrive at their desks until 7:45, refusing to work an extra 15 minutes in the morning and an extra half hour in the afternoon.
The Department of Education announcement Friday that it would extend school hours and the school year to make up for time lost due to excessive heat in the classrooms and some days lost due to Hurricane Omar in October. (See "Woodson Junior High Back on Full-Day Schedule Starting Wednesday.")
"Beginning Monday, the regular school day will be extended by an additional 48 minutes toward making up lost instructional time incurred during the first semester of the school year," said St. Croix Superintendent of Schools Gary Molloy in the announcement. The last day of the school year is being moved back from June 15 to June 26.
The teachers regard the increase in hours and days as a violation of their union contract.
"We should not be penalized with an extended school year that extends into the month of July, which is one of the hottest months of the year," wrote Tyrone Molyneux, president of the St. Croix Federation of Teachers. He wrote the letter to Gov. John deJongh Jr. upon hearing of the schedule change, on behalf of the union. Molyneux cited article IX (1) of the union contract, which states makeup days due to unavoidable circumstances "shall be limited to a maximum of five days."
"We have taken the position we are not working beyond our regular hours," Molyneux said Monday afternoon.
In response, Education had the Office of Collective Bargaining file a complaint in V.I. Superior Court, asking for a temporary restraining order and an injunction against any more work actions.
The complaint, signed by Gary Molloy, also cites the union contract to support its case, saying Education has the authority and right "to determine class schedules, hours of instruction and the duties, responsibilities and assignments of teachers …."
When asked about laws requiring students to have 1,080 hours of instruction per year, Molyneux said Education was picking and choosing which laws they want to implement.
"Prior to the opening of school, the schools are supposed to be inspected to ensure they are secure and environmentally safe," he said. "And that was not done. … The union has taken the position it is no fault of ours the schedule has been modified. It was modified because of the failure of the commissioner and management to supervise and make sure the schools were ready to use."
For several years now, Woodson has had its class schedule disrupted by heat, mold, leaks, vermin, an unusable auditorium and other problems with the school facilities. (See "Woodson School to Remain Closed Until August." and "New Fans Fail to Tame Heat at Woodson School.")
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