ROXBURY, NJ – Roxbury High School Principal Jeffrey Swanson on Wednesday canceled the school’s annual “Back to School Night,” telling parents that most of the school's teachers – locked in an increasingly bitter contract dispute with the school board – told him they wouldn’t participate.

Swanson announced the sudden cancellation in a 7 p.m. alert to parents. Back to School Night was scheduled to take place Thursday evening.

“I have been informed by a majority of the high school staff that they will not be in attendance at Back to School Night tomorrow evening,” wrote Swanson. “Accordingly, I am postponing the event.”

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John Williams, the state teachers’ union field representative for Roxbury, said any decision by Roxbury High School staff to pull out of the event was not something encouraged by the local arm of the union, the Roxbury Education Association (REA). In fact, Williams said it was Swanson who approached teachers urging them to not attend.

"I want to make clear to you it’s the position of the REA that teachers or staff do attend back to school nights," said Williams. He noted that teachers at Nixon School showed up Wednesday night for that school's Back to School gathering.

"They met with the parents and there were other members of REA outside who handed out information to the parents if they wished to accept it," Williams said. "But the position of the REA is that Back to School Nights are to be held. You also have to know that the principals' association is also bargaining and ... Jeff Swanson as the president of the administrators' association, approached some of our members and asked if the REA would cancel. He thought it was a good idea to cancel Back to School Night."

Williams said Roxbury High School teachers were free to do what they wanted. But he contended "the leadership of the REA decided it was in best interest of all that they continue to attend back to school nights" and reached that decision about a week ago after Swanson urged teachers to not go.

"The associattion decided to move forward," Williams said. "If principals want to cancel or principals want to postpone, that was up to them." 

Several hundred teachers staged a rally Tuesday evening in front of the Lincoln-Roosevelt School. Picketers urged the Roxbury Board of Education to sign a new contract. The current contract expired June 30, 2014 and an impasse has been declared.

Swanson’s decision to not attend Back to School night seemed to be a last-minute idea as the high school, as recently as Tuesday, reminded parents to attend the event.

Williams said the union leadership believes Back to School nights are a good place for teachers to talk to parents about the contract matter.