Reported Mistreatment and Now Out Of A Job!

Question:

I am a special education teacher in Massachusetts. For the past three years, I worked in an integrated preschool classroom within a city outside of Boston. I was one of ten special needs preschool classrooms within the building. Upon arriving at this school, the guidance counselors began to remove all the seriously behaviorally/mentally challenged children out of the classrooms around me and placing the children in my class. Which was fine, it is my specialty to work with these students, however the more significant the behavior the more help you need in your room. Needless to say no more help was given. The students were not getting their state mandated therapies as written in their IEP’s, and one speech and language therapist was extremely aggressive and verbally abusive to the students.

Many parents came to me, and when they questioned what was going on, I told the truth. Next thing you know I was called to the superintendent’s office for a talk–to tell me to stop scaring the parents. I told him I was answering their questions truthfully because it is not normal for preschoolers to see one of their classmates wheeled out of their classroom by EMTs and to see police for an emergency psychiatric evaluation.

My teaching assistant and I reported our concerns about the abusive therapist to our administrators on three separate occasions. Nothing was done. I continued to speak out because my students’ needs were not being addressed and the amount of violent behavior they were witnessing in the classroom was not good for their emotional development. My administrators wrote a bogus evaluation about me and gave me fifteen minutes for my evaluation meeting, so I could not find a union rep. to come to my meeting with me.

I was let go at the end of the year, and the bogus evaluation was removed from my file at the union’s request. I wanted to fight for wrongful termination and defamation of character but my union president did not push the issue with the union lawyers. It almost seemed like he was afraid to push the case because of what I witnessed and knew. Anyway, that last thing my union president said to me is “It is a sad day in THIS school system when an excellent teacher is let go because she advocates for her students and does not cover up for the school.” Do I have any rights to fight this, or sue them for wrongful termination?

Signed,

Terminated


Answer:

Dear Terminated:

I am not familiar with school law in Massachusetts so the advice I give to you in this regard is general at best. You are not a tenured teacher so your options are limited. Tenure mandates processes and procedures that a school system must follow in order to grant due process. Otherwise, in most cases, you are entitled to little recourse. It might be wise to cut your losses and move on.

The basic question you need to resolve in your own mind is whether you would want to be a part of this school system even if you won a suit. Would the environment be comfortable? Would you receive more cooperation? Would administrators be picky in an attempt to “get you”? Would they consistently attempt to “run you off” by make your assignment unbearable? An unwelcome employee is an unhappy employee.

However, for what they are worth I have a few observations that might be helpful. Since the school system was in violation of federal law 94-142 when you were employed, it probably still is. You might want to draft a letter to the appropriate state agency and request an audit. This action will benefit the students but probably will address nothing personally for you. However, you might use this letter as a negotiation tool with the Superintendent. Present it to him, and explain that you do not wish the system any harm but that you feel mistreated. Emphasize that unless he is willing to assist you in finding other work, then you intend to mail it with a copy also going to the local news media. If he agrees to assist you, secure a written recommendation from him by a deadline.

You might also want to secure a letters of recommendation from the union rep, a couple of parents who know and appreciate your work, fellow teachers, and teaching assistants. Include copies of these documents with future job applications. When interviewing, be up front about your situation and what happened. Don’t, in doing so, attack personalities. Instead, be professional and state the case just as you have done in your letter to WEGO.

In the future, document by date, time, and incident, matters that need redress. Report these to administration in writing. Record administrative responses in your log also and keep copies of all communications in this regard. This document would be a significant defensive tool in a show down with your employer. Since the union, apparently, let you down this time, go a step further and join NEA. It will cost you a few bucks but you will have added security and recourse.

I hope I have helped you clarify your position. Further assistance may be obtained from an attorney. Most of them will give you one appointment at no cost. You might want to discuss this matter with a reputable one. Good luck!

Our signature WEGO symbolizes working together for the best for our customers/clients and organization. Please let us know if these thoughts ring true and what you do.

Barry Hester