Chelmsford Teachers’ Union Head Placed on Leave After Altercation
CHELMSFORD -- The head of Chelmsford’s teachers’ union has been placed on paid administrative leave following an altercation between a state-level union official and Superintendent of Schools Jay Lang on Wednesday.
Police escorted Jennifer Salmon, Chelmsford Federation of Teachers president, and Eric Blanchet, field representative for the American Federation of Teachers, out of Harrington School following the incident.
“From my perspective, it’s totally unfortunate this entire incident took place,” Lang said Friday. “It’s not appropriate any time to do anything that would disturb a school assembly and do anything that would detract from kids coming to school and having a good educational experience.”
Lang said he could not comment further, because the incident involves school personnel.
Here is what happened on Wednesday, according to an official police report and emails obtained by The Sun:
Salmon requested a meeting with Harrington Interim Principal Patricia Tobin, district Director of Student Support Services Amy Reese and Patricia Doherty, the school’s special-education chair. Salmon wanted to speak with them about a situation involving a first-grade student and teacher.
“In your role as union president and parent at Harrington you are not entitled to student-related confidential information,” Reese wrote in a Tuesday afternoon email. “Further, as a third-grade teacher at Harrington you are not entitled to student-related confidential information for Harrington students other than those in your direct care.”
She went on to say school leadership would be happy to meet with the student’s classroom teacher if requested.
In an emailed response, Salmon said the union is concerned about safety and well-being of its members and students, and that “behaviors in our schools are having a negative impact on our working conditions.”
“Respectfully, you are in no position to tell us that it is not a ‘union matter,’” Salmon wrote. “Your unreasonable unwillingness to have a conversation about solutions is cowardly.”
Salmon requested a second meeting, and said she and Blanchet, the AFT representative, would be at the school at 8 a.m. Wednesday.
On Wednesday morning, Tobin again declined to meet with Salmon and Blanchet when they arrived at the school. Blanchet allegedly went into Tobin’s office and demanded the meeting, and began to shout at her and point his index finger at her face.
Feeling threatened, Tobin left the room to call Lang, leaving her cellphone behind. When her secretary went to her office to retrieve it, Lang’s number showed up on the phone.
Blanchet then allegedly picked the phone up and told the secretary, “No! She (Tobin) can come get it herself,’” the report states.
Lang then arrived and notified Blanchet the police had been called. Blanchet then allegedly left the phone to follow Lang down the hall and begin a heated discussion with him.
A detective watching school cameras from the high school resource office observed Blanchet allegedly place his hands on Lang a few times during the incident, leading to additional officers being called to the scene. Lang declined to press charges but asked officers to remove Blanchet from the property. Salmon also was escorted from the building and sent home.
When police attempted to explain to Blanchet “the ridiculousness of his actions on an active school day,” he replied that “he has ‘a job to do,’” the report states. Police told him he came close to being charged with disturbing a school assembly, and that criminal charges may be forthcoming for assault and battery on Lang and assault on Tobin.
Police also informed Lang of procedures of a no-trespass order for Blanchet, and advised he contact school legal counsel.
Lang sent a message to Harrington parents Wednesday afternoon telling them of the incident. He did not name the individuals involved and said students were never in danger.
Salmon declined comment on Friday, citing a directive from Lang. AFT-MA could not immediately be reached for comment.
“At this time I am unable to give a statement per Dr. Lang’s directive to me on Wednesday,” Salmon said in a Friday morning text message.
Under district procedures, staff placed on administrative leave may have no contact with other staff members, students and parents while under investigation.
Salmon taught at Parker Middle School before transferring to Harrington this school year.
Follow Alana Melanson at facebook.com/alana.lowellsun or on Twitter @alanamelanson.