Fired teachers win their way back

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Last fall, amid confusion in the school and sweeping changes at central office, the then-principal of Austin Community Academy dismissed 17 teachers, sending nine to the exit with a police escort. (See Catalyst, November 1995.)

This fall, five of the 17 returned following a successful challenge to the firings and a settlement between the School Reform Board and the Chicago Teachers Union. Subsequently, one of the five was lured away by another school.

No one seems to know why the Austin teachers had been fired. English teacher Carol Leverentz calls the firings “witch-hunty” and asks: “What drugs were they on? I don’t think any of those people should have been cut.”

According to union officials, all were regularly appointed, tenured teachers, and none had received unsatisfactory performance ratings—most had been rated excellent or superior. Three were the most senior members of their departments.

Only 10 of the teachers joined in the union’s grievances, which charged violations of both board policy and the union contract; the other seven accepted permanent positions elsewhere. By the time a settlement was reached May 2—the day of an arbitration hearing—four of the 10 also had accepted other positions. Later, a fifth went elsewhere, too.

According to the newsletter Substance, the settlement prohibits the board and the union from publicly “using the direct language of the settlement.” “I wasn’t here when they left,” says Interim Principal Arthur Slater. “I am not responsible for their leaving. I have to treat them like any other new teacher.”

The union was right to protest, he adds. “If you are removed improperly, you’re gonna fight. I can’t fault them for fighting for their jobs.”