Greetings! The following is the complete letter, in its entirety, that I had written to the Editor of the Worcester Telegram and was published on Wednesday, February 5. Unfortunately, the Worcester Telegram did not publish the full text.
Dear Editor :
As president of the Educational Association of Worcester, I head an organization that represents teachers, administrators and many of the educational support personnel working in the Worcester Public Schools. As you may imagine, I hear from EAW members frequently about issues concerning their work. The public may not recognize that these last few years have been a turbulent time in public education. EAW members have faced and are facing a number of issues regarding their work that employees in other occupations rarely face in intensity or time demands. As required by statute, we have negotiated the introduction of a new evaluation system that demands self-reflection, goal setting, observations, assessments and responses, introduction of evidence and a final product that may affect an educator’s career. While the evaluation goal is to make teachers and administrators better, that is often hard to recognize given the criticism they receive. Many EAW members are being required by the state to take courses to improve teaching to English language learners. This is a matter involving federal and state governments and while its aim is legitimate, its roll-out has been flawed and its imposition requires teachers to devote time to a course that is demanding and often interferes with other efforts they are making to develop professionally to say nothing of the toll on them and their families. Failure to successfully complete this course may affect their ability to continue to teach. To add to this, there are increased background checks that will require staff to be fingerprinted with the injustice of making them pay for it. EAW members are concerned over safety following the Sandy Hook and Colleen Ritzer tragedies. In addition, there are among other issues the health of the environment in school buildings where they work and students learn, ever increasing paperwork and workload demands and student behavior.
Worcester teachers, school administrators and educational support personnel strive each and every day to educate each and every student in their classrooms. Their work requires they like kids with all the problems kids face growing up in this fast paced world of ours. Public education and their livelihood are under attack by those who seek to profit by the failure of public education. Teachers, administrators and support personnel are working hard to make their students better learners with higher achievement. When you see them, please thank them for the work they do.
My email address: Lenny.firstname.lastname@example.org
Our web site: WORCESTER.MASSTEACHER.ORG
EXECUTIVE SECRETARY’S REPORT
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS: 51As – Charges of Child Abuse or Neglect
Among the many issues teachers, educational support personnel and, on occasion, administrators face is a report to the Department of Children and Families (DCF) that the teacher, ESP or AP has committed child abuse or neglect. The first notice you receive may be a call down to the principal’s office and an introduction to and request by a DCF Investigator for an interview concerning an allegation of abuse or neglect or you may receive a letter from DCF asking that you call the investigator to discuss 51A charges. If you are the target of such an investigation, be polite but refuse to meet with the Investigator or speak with the Investigator over the phone about the charges and call the EAW immediately. Even if the matter seems trivial to you, refuse to meet or speak to the Investigator. Simply tell the Investigator face-to-face or over the phone, “I will not speak with you nor meet with you without my attorney. My attorney will contact you to set up the meeting.” If you are asked for the attorney’s name, simply say that your union is providing the attorney and you do not know his or her name at this time. You should tell the EAW that you are the target of a DCF 51A investigation. At the EAW you will likely speak with me and come in to meet with me. You will not tell me details of the incident. You should know that charges of child abuse or neglect may result in criminal charges. Speaking to an MTA representative is not the same as speaking to an MTA attorney. Lawyer/client privilege comes from speaking to an attorney and provides the protection of confidentiality. An MTA representative can be subpoenaed and be required to testify about any disclosure you make to him or her. As an MTA member, an attorney will be provided to you if you are facing a 51A charge. You should not speak to an Investigator without an attorney because, in addition to possible criminal charges, a “supported” allegation may affect your license and your job.
The requirement to report child abuse or neglect is often viewed differently from district to district or from school to school within a district. Some matters that seem really minor may be reported while on occasion what appears to be a more serious matter will not be reported. No matter how minor it seems follow the advice above. If you go forward without an attorney and speak with an Investigator, the allegation may be “supported.” Based on the information you and other witnesses have provided, the Investigator has determined that abuse or neglect has occurred. There is an appeal from the Investigator’s “supported” determination. This is your right to a “Fair Hearing.” It may take several months to get a hearing and many months following for a decision to arrive. In the meantime, your action has been labeled “supported.” It is far better to convince the DCF Investigator that the abuse or neglect should be “unsupported” than to have to wait to convince an administrative magistrate that it be “unsupported” and then to wait much longer for his or her decision.
It has been the experience with EAW members that very few charges are “supported” at initial investigation when an attorney provides representation. The results before administrative magistrates at Fair Hearings most often end up with once “supported” charges becoming “unsupported” when an attorney provides representation.
You can also be disciplined by the District over 51A charges whether “supported” or “unsupported.” The District believes it holds its employees to a higher standard than DCF. Members have received letters of reprimand or faced suspension or job loss over these matters. You may be told to write a statement regarding the incident and then called to the DAB for the District investigation. Please do not write a statement without calling the EAW and speaking with me and/or the attorney the MTA provides to you. Please contact the EAW when you receive a meeting notice so that a representative may be present with you at the Weingarten hearing. How you respond to a 51A charge may affect your livelihood and family. Please contact me should you have any questions.
ADDENDUM TO FEBRUARY 26, 2014 NEWSLETTER
Art. XXVI, paragraph 8, Professional Development “From time to time”
In recent Unit AB contract negotiations, the bargaining team made a proposal on the 8 hour professional development language in Article XXVI which was added to the contract in 1988. The team was not successful in changing this language and in response, the EAW filed a class action grievance alleging the phrase in the paragraph “From time to time” meant that 8 hours of professional development was not required every year. The grievance made its way through the steps and reached the School Committee in late January. The School Committee denied the grievance. After review, the EAW has determined that there is almost no chance of success were the grievance to go to arbitration. Given this, the language in paragraph 8 will remain a priority in our next round of Unit AB bargaining commencing in early 2016.