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Chelmsford Teacher Remains on Paid Leave

December 2, 2017 GMT

CHELMSFORD -- Chelmsford Federation of Teachers President Jennifer Salmon remains on paid administrative leave a week after an altercation involving a state-level union representative and school administrators.

Salmon, a third-grade teacher, was placed on leave following the Nov. 22 incident at Harrington Elementary School, in which she and American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts Field Representative Eric Blanchet were escorted off the property by police.

“The employee remains on administrative leave with pay pending the results of the investigation,” Superintendent of Schools Jay Lang said Friday.

According to emails and a police report obtained by The Sun, Salmon and Blanchet had sought a meeting with interim Principal Patricia Tobin and other administrators to discuss a first-grade classroom situation but were denied on grounds that they were not entitled to a particular student’s confidential information. They attempted to have the meeting anyway, which led to an altercation in which Blanchet allegedly yelled at Tobin, stuck his finger in her face and refused to return her cellphone. Blanchet also had a heated discussion with Lang, allegedly placing his hands on Lang two to three times.

Salmon was placed on leave and ordered not to speak with staff, students and parents at the school. She has twice declined to comment on the matter to The Sun.

“The order has not been lifted,” she said in a Friday morning text message. “Per Dr. Lang’s written notification on November 22, 2017, I am not able to speak about this entire situation.”

“The American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts is completely supportive of the president of the Chelmsford Federation of Teachers, that she is deeply involved in the best interests of the students and her teachers at the school,” AFTMA President Tom Gosnell said Thursday.

He said he was briefed on the details of the classroom situation that led to the Nov. 22 incident, including “issues regarding services to at least one student.”

In long discussions on Facebook, parents painted a picture of an out-of-control classroom that makes their children anxious and fearful of coming to school.

Two parents who had identified themselves as having children in the classroom declined to comment when contacted by The Sun.

Gosnell, the AFTMA president, declined to comment on the police report and Blanchet’s alleged behavior, and said he felt the issue involving Blanchet “is history” because he had not been charged in the incident.

Blanchet remains actively involved with union matters in Chelmsford, Gosnell said.

Stephen MacCormack, a parent who organized a peaceful show of support for Salmon outside Harrington Monday morning, said it’s not fair that school officials can speak about the incident while Salmon must remain silent. He said he believes administrators handled it “extremely poorly” and that Salmon is being punished as a teacher for actions taken as leader of the union.

“If you’re in a position of power and there’s an ongoing investigation, you shouldn’t be making any comments at all,” MacCormack said.

MacCormack, whose son is in Salmon’s third-grade class at Harrington, said she is one of the most highly-regarded teachers in town and the students are suffering because of her absence. He asked that the investigation “come to an immediate resolution.”

In a page-long statement released Tuesday, Lang said Salmon’s leave is not punitive and is “simply standard procedure following an incident of this nature.”

He responded to concerns the district was not meeting the needs of staff and students, saying that he takes seriously his responsibility to protect their rights and welfare.

“Due to strict confidentiality laws in student-related matters, the public, teachers and other students may not be aware of the work that is being done to support our staff and students -- and we understand that this can lead to some frustration,” Lang wrote.

He said he welcomes parent and teacher input so concerns can be addressed appropriately.

“What we know for certain is that circumventing this process is not how professionals work collaboratively towards a common goal of ensuring our students and teachers a safe and supportive learning environment, as it undermines the professional and cohesive work being done by the outstanding teaching and administrative teams in the Chelmsford Public Schools,” Lang wrote.

According to reports on social media, union members from Chelmsford and Billerica plan to protest at the School Committee meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

MacCormack said he hopes district parents and others will also provide a strong rally of support not only for Salmon but for all teachers and students.

Follow Alana Melanson at facebook.com/alana.lowellsun or on Twitter @alanamelanson.