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Edinburg teachers file grievance against administrators after DOI process

April 12, 2017 GMT

EDINBURG — Members of the Edinburg chapter of the American Federation of Teachers filed an organizational grievance against school district administrators for what they said was coercion and bullying during a recent vote on the District of Innovation and the entire process.

“The main reason behind the grievance is the administrator’s interference in the DLSBDM process as protected by Texas Education Code,” said Greg Rodriguez, Texas AFT project organizer. “The other part of the complaint is that throughout the DOI process, the district failed to uphold the anti-workplace bullying policy fought for and won by Edinburg AFT in 2015.”

The grievance, filed on Friday, is against “The superintendent acting through Rebecca Morrison and Ron Cavazos,” Rodriguez said, referring to Edinburg school district Superintendent René Gutiérrez.

Gutiérrez said he is not specifically named in the grievance.

Part of the complaint stems from a meeting on March 20 in which the District Level School Based Decision Making Committee, known as DLSBDM, thought it would anonymously vote on whether to recommend to the board of trustees whether to seek the District of Innovation designation, which allows districts flexibilities similar to those allowed to charter schools.

Even though the committee decided this process would be anonymous, they were suddenly presented with identifiable ballots. District assistant superintendents Morrison and Cavazos, who were at the meeting, said the superintendent directed that the vote take place on the identifiable ballots.

After many complaints and questions about the legality of the vote, the committee approved recommending the innovation designation on the identifiable ballots by a vote of 30 to 22. Then the committee conducted a second vote on the anonymous ballots and the results turned out to be the opposite: 30 against and 19 in favor. Three of the ballots were missing. The school board eventually decided against the DOI designation.

“There was a lot of coercion that was going on,” said Marsha Gonzalez, an Edinburg teacher and AFT member. “That was occurring also in the meeting just by having administrators there and having you in assigned seating. They are grabbing your ballot, they are looking at your name and they are looking at your ballot. A lot of people were highly intimidated.”

When asked about the grievance, which complainants said was a Level III complaint going straight to the board of trustees, Gutiérrez said it would be treated as any other complaint and said his name didn’t appear on it. He also said the complaint was a Level I complaint.

The teacher and representatives of the district’s American Federation of Teachers said, however, that the complaint stated “The Superintendent,” in the complaint, and there is only one person in this position.

The Monitor could not immediately get a copy of the grievance.

“It talks about the superintendent,” said Amado Balderas, Edinburg teacher and DLSBDM co-chair. “You cannot just throw it under the rug. To me, if there’s no grievance process, it will happen again.”

A group of teachers met with the superintendent last Thursday to go over some of their requests for change. They all described the meeting as productive as they were able to point out some of the ways the district can protect teachers from this kind of intimidation.

These remedies as written in the grievance include:

>> A determination that the administrators’ actions violated the cited laws and policies.

>> A communication from the board that the district will not tolerate retaliation of any kind against AFT members for questioning or opposing the DOI or questioning or opposing the actions taken by the administration at the March 20 district level SBDM committee meeting.

>> Training for administrators and all district personnel in the proper role of the SBDM and the anti-bullying features of DH (Local) and the right of employees to free speech under DGA (Legal).

>> All administrators with items to be discussed at District Level SBDM meetings must have those items approved and initialed by the Superintendent, and a digital copy sent to the DLSBDM Executive Committee members so they may be included on the agenda.

>> All ballots and lists of ballot results which were collected in the non-confidential Edinburg CISD District of Innovation vote should be returned to the District Level SBDM Executive Committee members so they may be destroyed. This is to deter any from retaliation against principals/teachers that voted against the implementation of the District of Innovation plan for Edinburg CISD.

District officials recently proposed adopting the District of Innovation designation and drafted a plan that stated it would only be used for calendar flexibility.

Teachers, however, feared it would also open the door for them to lose contractual protections as the program also allows such changes including the ability to hire non-certified teachers and administrators.

At the meeting with Gutiérrez, the teachers said they were transparent on their intent to file the grievance, but said they were willing to withdraw it if they saw their remedies implemented.

When asked about these remedies, Gutiérrez declined to share some of the points made by the teachers stating he had yet to go over the list to see what could be done on his part.

“It was a very good meeting,” he said. “I told them that I would get all of their suggestions into consideration. … They are on the same page as I am — that we want to do anything we can to take good care of the district.” The complainants also characterized the meeting as a good one.

When asked about his thoughts on the DOI process that led to the grievance, he also refused to talk about it stating that was all behind them and he wanted to move forward. But he spoke generally about intimidation in the workplace.

“Any type of intimidation is not good,” he said. “I will not support any type of intimidation on employees and as a practice in general, not just on this issue.”

The end goal, Balderas said, is to take away that element of fear out of the equation to let teachers work in peace and feel protected.

“There’s a lot of people who love teaching and love the district, but there’s also an element of fear,” he said. “It shouldn’t be that way. I wouldn’t have put teachers through that stress… If everybody would have respected the process, this wouldn’t have happened.”