- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 5, 2001

FREEHOLD, N.J. (AP) Dispensing a lesson in the ABCs, a judge went down a list of names in alphabetical order and jailed 23 more striking teachers yesterday for defying his back-to-work order.
That brought the total jailed to 27.
"You are holding the keys to the jail," Superior Court Judge Clarkson S. Fisher Jr. said in handing Middletown Township teachers one-week jail sentences. "Any time you want to come out, let me know and you are out."
More than 700 teachers in Monmouth County's largest school district walked out Thursday, unwilling to continue working without a new contract. The old contract expired June 30.
Judge Fisher ordered them back to work on Thursday, but nearly all defied him, setting the stage for the first jailing of New Jersey teachers in 23 years.
On Monday, the judge started with names beginning with the letter A. Yesterday, he started on the letter B.
Among those sent to jail on Monday was Steve Antonucci, a physical education teacher and football coach. "I got into this business to teach children, and that's what I did," he told the judge. But he added: "I'm married with two kids and my wife's pregnant. I love my family and I'd do anything to support them."
The teachers are paid an average of $56,300.
Association President Diane Swaim said teachers aren't giving up without a fight.
"We are determined to see this through to the end. If it means every one of us goes to jail, so be it," she told teachers at a rally after the hearing. The group chanted the union slogan: "You can break a twig, but you can't break a bundle."
Middletown Township, a bedroom community near the Atlantic Coast that has 10,500 students in its school district, has dealt with teacher strikes in the past. Three years ago, teachers went on strike briefly before Judge Fisher ordered them back to work.
On Monday, schools Superintendent Jack DeTalvo said community opposition to the teachers' strike was "about 4,000 to 1."
"A lot of people are getting angry," said parent Sheila McGowan, who has two children. "They're wasting precious time here."
The judge said in court Monday that he was determined to get the teachers to obey his order, and said hundreds more would be jailed if they didn't go back to work.
"It does pain me to do this, no question," Judge Fisher said. "But this isn't about what makes me feel good."
A few teachers were excused because of medical problems or pressing family issues, such as sick or elderly relatives. But most defiantly told the judge they would not return to work in the 10,500-student district without a contract.


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