Seven Whittell teachers face penalties for alleged 2003 sickout |

Seven Whittell teachers face penalties for alleged 2003 sickout

Jo Rafferty

MINDEN – Seven Whittell High School teachers won’t be suspended if they can convince Douglas County School Board trustees today that they didn’t participate in a 2003 sickout.

A public hearing began Monday and will continue through Wednesday. Teachers are expected to testify today.

Rich Alexander, assistant superintendent of human resources for the Douglas County School District, testified that Whittell school counselor Karen Boulet came to him on Oct. 29 at the district office in Minden to tell him that there was a planned sickout by several of Whittell’s teaching staff.

“She indicated to me that things were bad at WHS,” said Alexander. “She had concerns about communication between the principal, the teachers and the students. She indicated to me that something was going to happen. She indicated to me there was going to be a sickout on Oct. 30.”

The following day, 10 of the school’s teachers failed to show up citing personal or family illness. It happened to be on a day when teachers were being observed by officials outside the district. The district honored three of the excuses of the 10 who were absent.

But Boulet and the rest of the teachers say there was no sickout planned and they all had legitimate excuses.

“I was talking about programs collapsing, not about a sickout,” Boulet said, during a break at the hearing.

“My reason for talking to him was because of the potential cancellation of programs like Black and White Choir and drama. (Principal Janie Gray) wasn’t willing to work with the kids, the teachers, the program director. She was willing to just let these programs die.

“Each one of our team had a valid reason for being out that day. All of these teachers have had exemplary careers – 20 years or more.”

Alexander testified that he heard about the sickout a second time, immediately after talking to Boulet, from Norma Villasenior, who said she had heard that one of the groundskeepers, Gary Alves, overheard teachers talking about participating in a sickout.

“Mr. Alves told me that he had heard rumors about teachers calling in sick,” said Alexander. “He was reluctant to give names. He said it was teachers, and more than one.”

District Superintendent John Soderman testified citing comments from the observers, who traveled from five counties in Nevada to Whittell on Oct. 30. He quoted many of them, including Howard Bennett, former principal at Whittell, who Soderman said had heard several boys talking about the teachers being on strike.

Clyde Baker was another member of the team who Soderman said heard students talking about teachers being on strike.

If You Go

What: A public hearing over the Whittell High School teachers accused of participating in a sickout

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and Wednesday

Where: Douglas County School District office, 751 Mono Ave.. in Minden.

Hearing facts

• Seven Whittell High School teachers are facing potential discipline for a sickout alleged to occur Oct. 30, 2003. They are: Larry Reilly, Karen Boulet, Jeremy Smith, James Hynes, Steve Vaughn, John Houghton and Jasmine Gouveia.

• The teachers requested the hearing because they were already facing detention and wanted a chance to give their side.

• The school district is recommending that six teachers be suspended for three weeks and the seventh for two weeks.