A daily lesson: More teachers jailed in New Jersey as contract negotiations stall


Thursday, December 6th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6



FREEHOLD, N.J. (AP) _ Negotiations between striking teachers and education officials broke off early Thursday as more than 100 teachers who are refusing to return to work spent the night in jail cells.

Talks stopped at about 3 a.m. on Thursday when no progress was made, according to union spokeswoman Karen Joseph. She said negotiations were expected to resume at 8 p.m. Thursday.

More than 130 Middletown teachers have been jailed this week for disobeying Superior Court Judge Clarkson S. Fisher Jr., who ordered them back to work last Thursday, the same day they walked off the job at 17 schools.

The union says the strike is a legitimate job action, even if it is illegal.

For a third day Wednesday, defiant teachers were grilled in court about why they weren't returning to the classroom. The standard answer: ``We won't return until we get a fair, negotiated, signed settlement.''

Eighty-eight were jailed Wednesday _ including Keyport Mayor Kevin Graham, a social studies teacher _ and three others were ordered to report to jail this weekend.

Two teachers agreed to return to work rather than go to jail. They were freed to join about 110 others who have chosen to work rather than strike.

No one was predicting a quick end to the strike or the jailings.

``There's not a chance we're going to give up,'' Diane Swaim, president of the Middletown Township Education Association, told the teachers. ``There's not a chance we're going to give in. There's not a chance we're going to go back to work without a contract.''

Two judges are considering the teachers' cases alphabetically; on Thursday, Fisher will begin by sentencing those whose last names end in H and K, while Judge Ira Kreizman will sentence those whose last names begin with N, O, P, Q and R.

Up to 750 teachers could end up in jail if the deadlock continues. That's how many of the 1,000 teachers in the union were formally served with the back-to-work order, Board of Education attorney Douglas Kovats said.

As more and more teachers have their day in court, the head of the 2.6 million member National Education Association says jailed New Jersey teachers won't be forgotten.

``Pick a fight with any of us and you have picked a fight with all of us,'' said Bob Chase, speaking at a rally Wednesday night that drew about 500 teachers.