Legal and policy challenges facing public school teachers: A brief report from Memphis

Last week it was my privilege to join members of the National Organization of Lawyers for Education Associations (NOLEA) for their annual conference, held in Memphis, Tennessee.

NOLEA is associated with the National Education Association. NOLEA-affiliated lawyers work for teachers’ unions and for law firms that represent teachers in collective bargaining. Their annual conference is an opportunity to share legal and legislative updates relating to K-12 teachers, especially in the employment context.

Teachers targeted

I say that being at the conference was a “privilege” rather than a “pleasure” because, as much as I enjoyed spending time with these dedicated attorneys, I became ever more aware of ongoing efforts to diminish the rights and freedoms of public educators.

Bashing public school teachers and their unions is “in” these days, and the legal environment in which NOLEA-affiliated attorneys work is no exception. Hot issues include downsizing, threats to tenure and civil liberties, and pay reductions. Thus, the lawyers have their work cut out for them, which was clear by the serious atmosphere that pervaded the conference.

Bullying of teachers

In that context, my presentation on workplace bullying was timely, as many teachers are being targeted by principals, superintendents, and school boards.

Here are three cases that I mentioned, drawn from previous blog posts:

1.         Deb Caldieri, South Hadley, MA

After the 2010 suicide of teenager Phoebe Prince following a course of bullying by schoolmates, one of her supportive teachers, Deb Caldieri, was driven out of her job by school administrators. (Read more here.)

2.         Joan Kaltreider, et al., Montgomery County, MD

This year, six current and former teachers from the Kemp Hill Elementary School filed suit against their principal and school board, claiming repeated bullying and harassment. (Read more here. Read the 76-page civil complaint here.)

3.         Mary Thorson, Ford Heights, IL

The 2011 suicide of Mary Thorson, a 32-year-old teacher, is being linked to workplace bullying and to what her colleagues describe as an atmosphere of fear and intimidation facing teachers in the school district. (Read more here.)

Thank you

I’d like to thank specially NEA General Counsel Alice O’Brien and NEA attorneys Michael Simpson and Jason Walta for their invitation and warm welcome.

The conference marked Michael’s farewell to the organization, and he offered poignant remarks reminiscing on a career spent in service of education lawyers, teachers, and kids. It also gave me an opportunity to catch up with Jason, once a Northeastern University law student here in Boston, and now a public interest lawyer pursuing good works.

2 responses

  1. The viciousness of the abuse heaped on public workers in general and these workers in particular is frightening. It wasn’t all that long ago when we respected people who worked for the public good; they could be stellar, or average, or what have you, but the fact that they went into work every day (in many cases, for less than they’d make in the private sector, and with far more aggravation attached) was considered worthy and respectable. What happened to our culture that people who serve the public good are now considered target practice?

    To all those who aren’t the targets: Be careful. Any one of you could be next. That’s why it’s in everybody’s best interest to stop this kind of thing ASAP.

    • Lisa, the legal attack on these teachers sometimes crosses into the downright hateful.

      That’s why the work that you and others have been doing to highlight the contributions made by public employees to our everyday lives is so important.

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