April 20th, 2012

Sun Sentinel: Palm Beach County teachers charge principals with rampant intimidation


School district administration vows to investigate claims
By Marc Freeman, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, April 20, 2012

Palm Beach County public school principals are intimidating and harassing teachers in “alarmingly rampant” numbers that pose a serious threat to student achievement, union President Debra Wilhelm says.

The Classroom Teachers Association has learned from its members that workplace intimidation is a “systemic” problem and “nothing seems to be being done to alleviate this behavior,” Wilhelm told the School Board on Wednesday night.

Superintendent Wayne Gent’s administration responded Thursday with a promise to investigate the claims and said it “welcomes any constructive suggestions” to address the matter.

“All complaints will be fully investigated and where evidence of inappropriate behavior exists, such as threats and intimidation, appropriate disciplinary and corrective actions will continue to be taken,” spokesman Nat Harrington said.
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The union wants a new school district task force to work with teachers on developing training for principals, aimed at changing the “culture” that permits some principals to act with an “almost dictatorship attitude.”

“We want to help administrators learn appropriate behaviors to work with their staff so teachers no longer teach each day in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation and bullying directed to them,” Wilhelm said.

The union said “this abhorrent behavior” is widespread but did not offer specifics, because a “pattern of power, domination and fear keeps teachers from speaking out.”

Districts are not required to keep such data. But some of the general examples cited include: teachers being ordered to give up planning time and personal time to cover additional duties or classes or activities beyond what is provided in their contract; and being assigned tasks with “impossible deadlines, or inundated with even more forms to complete.”

“Some teachers are being told, ‘If you can’t put in long hours, weekends and summers, then you should find another school,’” Wilhelm said.

While student bullying usually gets more publicity, cases of adult-to-adult or workplace intimidation in schools are reportedly increasing across the nation. Unions blame pressure from new education laws, including a revamped teacher evaluation system required by the state, and personal financial worries.

Adult bullying usually takes on the same forms of student bullying, with teasing, intimidation, physical violence, and sexual, religious or racial harassment. Yet workplace intimidation of teachers adds the extra danger of affecting students, because unmotivated teachers may not give it their all.

“If a teacher is so demoralized, they might even give up and do their job without motivation,” Wilhelm has said.

In its latest call for action, the union asked the School Board to “publicly condemn” the actions of the principals, which the union states is worse than epidemic.

Harrington said the board already had addressed the issue by adopting “a strong anti-bullying policy that is to be adhered to by all employees.”

All school districts in Florida were required to do so in 2008, under the state Legislature’s Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act. It was named for a 15-year-old Cape Coral teenager who committed suicide in 2005 after years of being bullied.

“The district takes bullying of both students and employees very seriously, and the superintendent will take all steps necessary to correct students bullying other students, and employees, including administrators, bullying employees,” Harrington said.

The Palm Beach County teacher’s contract does not mention worker intimidation, but it does contain a clause about discrimination and harassment that addresses similar issues.

“Employees should be free from unnecessary, spiteful or negative criticism or complaints by management representatives,” it states.

In neighboring Broward County, the teacher’s contract cites “bullying/harassment” and includes an official process for reviewing complaints. There’s also a section that addresses “upbraiding, insults or interference by a parent” against an employee.

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This entry was posted on Friday, April 20th, 2012 at 9:58 am and is filed under Employers Gone Wild: Doing Bad Things. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.



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  • http://www.mgmt-in-a-nutshell.com Jay Jacobus

    If I call a serviceman into my house to fix a problem I have, I will treat him courteously and helpfully. While he is the serviceman and I am the customer, I will not talk down to him or pressure him or yell at him.

    School officials should have the same attitude toward individual teachers. They have a common goal and that goal can be reached without abuse.

    Threats of reprisals challenge a teacher to obey or leave and close the door to the teacher’s freedom to chose. There is no good choice: the teacher neither wants to disobey nor leave. What she wants is a fair discusion of her responsibilies as agreed by contract.

    That seems reasonable to me.

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