Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School students were dismissed Friday morning after a large number of the teachers failed to appear for classes.
According to Glen Smith, executive director of the St. Thomas-St. John chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, the teachers' action was "not a union-sponsored activity."
Smith told Radio One that the teachers, while they are union members, "are doing this on their own. They are taking the leadership on issues."
Repeated telephone calls to the school Friday morning went unanswered when the line was not busy.
Smith said he received a telephone call around 9 a.m. Friday saying the teachers were "not in school today."
According to Smith, the BCB teachers, along with others throughout the territory, were incensed to learn in media reports Thursday that Gov. Charles Turnbull had once again granted pay increases to a number of government employees in administrative positions.
Turnbull himself and other government spokespersons have subsequently stated that at least some of the actions taken were not pay increases per se but promotions to higher salaried positions.
In a call-in to the Topp Talk show, Smith quoted from what he said was a letter to him from Turnbull some time ago. In it, he quoted the governor as saying he could not approve pay raises for teachers only and not for all other government workers who are similarly owed negotiated increases.
"You can see why our members are angry," the AFT leader said. "The governor is telling lies to our people . . . While he's saying one thing to the people, in public he's doing something else."
Also in a call to radio personality Sam Topp, longtime BCB teacher and union activist Brian McLernan explained "why I'm sick today," saying that Friday he was taking his "first sick day in four years."
McLernan, a teacher in the V.I. public schools for 24 years, said the last time his paycheck reflected what he was contractually supposed to be paid was "in the first week of September 1991."
Smith said he had "no idea" whether the teachers' action at BCB was a one-day action or would continue, or whether similar action might occur at other schools.
"Based on the situation, more outbursts will occur," he predicted. "A lot's going to happen."
On Thursday, the AFT announced plans to hold a protest rally at the Legislature Building next Wednesday, Sept. 15. Those planning to participate have been asked to gather at Emancipation Garden at 8 a.m. on the school day. According to Smith, the protest is of administration proposals to cut salaries across the board and reduce government holidays and teacher concerns.