Hearings begin for 7 accused teachers
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 said there was no sickout planned and they all had legitimate excuses.
“There’s no way in hell that I said we would go on strike,” said Boulet, explaining that she had gone to Alexander to talk to him about problems going on at the school and that the information had somehow gotten twisted.
“I was talking about programs collapsing, not about a sickout,” she 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 is in charge of personnel services at Whittell. Villasenior called Alexander and said she had heard from groundskeeping superintendent Jimmie Bell 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 talked in length about information he received 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.
“Baker had said that a girl said, ‘The teachers are sick because you were coming,'” said Soderman.
“We believe the hearsay and rumors will be disproven when our side speaks,” said Boulet.
“I’m going to get convicted by kids. I cannot believe that,” said Larry Reilly, one of the seven teachers at the hearing.
The teachers facing potential discipline are Reilly, 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 district is recommending that six teachers be suspended for three weeks and the seventh for two weeks, said Alexander.
Alexander said Boulet would not reveal which teachers she had heard the information from, but only that she overhears “a lot of teachers’ conversations.”
“She indicated secret meetings during that week. She wouldn’t indicate who was involved,” said Alexander.