Hearings next week for Whittell teachers accused of ‘sick-out’ | NevadaAppeal.com

Hearings next week for Whittell teachers accused of ‘sick-out’

by Sheila Gardner

MINDEN – Seven teachers who face suspension without pay for what school officials say was an illegal “sick-out” at Whittell High School will face public hearings next week before a Nevada Department of Education hearing officer.

Rich Alexander, assistant superintendent of human resources, said Douglas County School District is recommending that six teachers be suspended for three weeks and the seventh be suspended for two weeks.

“On Oct. 30, 2003, a highly unusual number of teachers were absent from Whittell High School. The district conducted an investigation and determined that what took place was a sick-out by the teachers at the school,” Alexander said.

The teachers, through their representative Randy Cahill of the Nevada State Education Association, denied the allegation.

Ten of the school’s 17 teachers failed to show up that day, Alexander said. On average, one or two teachers are absent, he said.

He said the district honored the excuses for three of the 10 teachers who were absent.

The teachers facing suspension are Jasmine Gouveia, Larry Reilly, Jeremy Smith, James Hynes, Karen Boulet, Steve Vaughn and John Houghton.

Cahill said the action represents the first time in his 12 years with the association that teachers have been charged with illegal activity.

Alexander said the district believes the teachers were protesting efforts by Principal Janie Gray and the district for more accountability by staff.

“Nevada has a no-strike rule,” Alexander said. “The penalty is that the district can take disciplinary action up to termination. The district felt suspension was appropriate.”

“There was no concerted sick-out or any other job action,” Cahill said. “Of the seven that were charged, one was present that day. The other six were absent and called in sick for a variety of personal reasons or family illness.”

Cahill said the education association reviewed dozens of transcripts taken under oath from teachers, parents, staff and classified employees and found no testimony the actions were deliberate.

He said the teacher who was present that day was suspended because she told officials there was no sick-out.

“They decided to charge her with dishonesty because she didn’t go with their viewpoint,” Cahill said.

“We think this is a punitive action taken against teachers and that is why we are in the hearing, to set the record straight,” he said.

The hearing officer, Carson City lawyer Wayne S. Chimarusti, was agreed upon by both sides from a list provided by the Nevada Department of Education.

Alexander said the hearing officer makes a recommendation, but the final action is up to the Douglas County school board. He said it could be months before a decision is made.

The hearings are set for Monday, Tuesday and Dec. 8. The district office is at 751 Mono Ave., Minden.

Sheila Gardner can be reached at sgardner@recordcourier.com or 782-5121, ext. 214.