Deb Caldieri, the South Hadley, Massachusetts schoolteacher who dared to criticize her school’s response to the bullying that led to the 2010 suicide of teenager Phoebe Prince, has received her final termination notice, just weeks after testifying in support of the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill.
The persecution and humiliation of Deb Caldieri, the teacher who responded to the suicide of Phoebe Prince with a compassion so utterly lacking elsewhere in South Hadley High School, is complete. She was fired last week.
Gus Sayer, the school district’s superintendent, sent a letter to Caldieri – who went on unpaid medical leave in December because of her multiple sclerosis – saying he couldn’t wait around any longer to see whether the symptoms would subside enough for her to return to work. Those symptoms got worse after Caldieri was punished for speaking out about Phoebe Prince’s treatment at the high school.
Cullen goes on to describe the supposed efforts that Sayer made to contact Caldieri to discuss her situation. I’d suggest reading the full column to learn how this played out, as Cullen did an excellent job of interviewing Sayer in an effort to get to the heart of the matter.
Cause or coincidence?
Not mentioned in the column is the fact that Caldieri was terminated roughly two weeks after she publicly described her experiences in testimony supporting the Healthy Workplace Bill, which would provide severely bullied workers with a legal claim against their employers and individual tormenters. As reported here earlier, she spoke before the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development as one of many supporters of the legislation.
Her testimony attracted statewide media coverage, and it is unlikely that this escaped the attention of the South Hadley school administrators. The timing of her termination — the final step of a long process of pushing her out of a job and career — certainly raises suspicions.
Hopefully not the end of the story
I’m not Ms. Caldieri’s lawyer, but if you ask me, she’s got the makings of a legal claim, unlike many targets of workplace bullying she supported with her brave testimony. In addition to rights grounded in her union’s collective bargaining agreement, there’s the possibility of disability discrimination and termination in violation of public policy (i.e., fired for exercising her right to testify before a legislative committee), among other potential claims.
Of course, the possibility of legal action is only part of the story. Deb Caldieri has been mentally and physically beaten up by these events, and what’s at stake is the quality of the rest of her life. I dearly hope there will be a better ending to what has been a terrible, tragic, outrageous story so far.
In addition, we must ask: What in heaven’s name is going on in South Hadley? Did they not learn a thing from the bullying that led Phoebe Prince to take her own life? How can they expect children to treat one another with decency and dignity, when they’ve mistreated a dedicated teacher in such a horrible way?
To help Deb Caldieri: Via Ray Hershel of wggb.com, “Friends of Deb Caldieri have set up a fund to help her with medical and living expenses. Donations can be made to the Deb Caldieri Benefit Fund in care of People’s Bank at 1240 Sumner Avenue, Springfield, Mass. 01108. You can also donate at any People’s Bank.”