Removal violates teacher rights, union delegate charges

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In the view of a former Chicago Teachers Union delegate to Austin High School, the removal of 15 teachers from the school on Sept. 1 is a test case of the School Reform Board’s powers under school remediation.

Louis Pyster, who was Austin’s union delegate until he was dismissed from the faculty Sept. 1, contends the criteria for staff dismissal and selection were arbitrary and violated teachers’ contractual rights.

The school’s remediation planning team recommended last May that new teachers make up a third of Austin’s faculty for the 1995-96 school year. At the time, however, there were a number of vacancies, so the recommendation did not necessarily require displacement of current faculty members. The team further recommended that any restaffing be done by a team of Austin teachers, who would be given special training. However, no such training took place, and no teachers conducted any interviews, Pyster says.

Community and staff members who worked over the summer to design new school programs subsequently agreed among themselves that all current teachers would be interviewed by committees that included teachers, parents and community members. However, teachers had the understanding that their jobs were not in jeopardy and that the interviews would simply be informational, according to teacher Mary Ann Casey, who was among those removed Sept. 1.

Some of the teachers who lost their jobs at the school were never interviewed at all, including Casey. The same was true for some of those who kept their jobs, says Pyster.

Pyster filed a grievance on behalf of 10 of the displaced teachers, but the board’s labor relations officer rejected the grievance on the grounds that the remediation plan called for restaffing.

“That implies that they acted under the law,” says Pyster. “And it’s particularly scary when you consider that you can put anything in a plan. . . . It’s a power move, and we’ll see what happens.”

Pyster subsequently asked the CTU to seek arbitration and says he’s confident the union will pursue the matter.

Under the law, remediation is the most lenient form of corrective action that central office can take at troubled schools, and it does not even provide for removal of staff. State law offers other forms that allow for staff removal, but those involve a number of procedures that apparently weren’t followed in this case.