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Upton Sinclair

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All Show, No Tell

Recently, a union grievance was filed against Assistant Superintendent Pam Vogel. The complainant, a teacher, anonymously alleged that Vogel openly discussed the teacher’s medical history in public. The Region 1 Board of Education heard the grievance this week. The representative for the teacher’s union, Bob Namnoum, refused to allow the grievance to be held in executive session to maintain privacy of the teacher. No evidence whatsoever was presented to support the claim. No one testified to the alleged action. The board found that the grievance was without merit and denied the grievance. In summary, an unknown employee, using the union as cover, has made a serious claim against Vogel, but has not stepped forward with evidence. As it currently stands, this is pure, unadulterated union harassment.

The complaint, without the melodrama, is straightforward. An unknown teacher on medical leave hears from an unknown employee in the high school that Vogel had discussed the reasons for the medical leave with an outside consultant. The teacher, identified as John/Jane Doe, complains that such information will affect their position within the workplace.

The Housatonic Valley Regional Faculty Association (HVRFA) filed a formal grievance as outlined in Article 3 of the teacher contract. Presumably, the grievance was denied at Level One, Principal Jose Martinez. The Superintendent, Patricia Chamberlain, denied the grievance at Level Two due to lack of evidence. The union filed a Level Three grievance to the Region 1 Board of Education. While both sides speak of mediation as a possible solution, the union proceeded with the standard grievance process instead.

The grievance hearing on Wednesday, May 3, 2017 was attended by the full Region 1 Board of Education, Superintendent Chamberlain, Board Attorney Gary Brochu, Union representative Namnoun, two HVRFA representatives Beth Foulds and Nul Abdulhayoglu, and four other interested parties. Namnoun refused to allow the presentation of the grievance to move into executive session to allow for the privacy of testimony. He then read the statement of grievance from the unknown teacher. No other testimony was given: the unknown employee was not identified and did not testify.

The board, after discussion in executive session, denied the grievance unanimously. The reasons stated by Chairman Andrea Downs were:

  • No violation of any provision of the teachers’ contract
  • No direct evidence presented by the union
  • No testimony from any witnesses – only hearsay
  • HIPAA does not apply
  • Even if HIPAA did apply, no evidence presented of a statement which would be a HIPAA violation
  • A statement that an employee is on “medical leave” is not a violation of privacy of district policy
  • No communication about a disability was made by Dr. Vogel

According to the teachers’ contract, the union may now ask for arbitration with a further legal cost to both sides. However, the arbiter may not expand the investigation beyond what was already presented. No further evidence is allowed.

This kind of unsupported grievance has historically been the reaction of the teachers’ union at Housatonic to any attempt by the administration to make changes at the high school. The union has enjoyed veto power over any administrative decision. Such a lack of autonomy for the administration in making educational decisions was part of the accreditation probation by NEASC ten years ago, and will likely lead to the lack of full accreditation again.

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1 comment to All Show, No Tell

  • Bob Whelan

    This is a fair representation of the events of Wednesday evening. At the end of the day, The Board regretted that the statement from John/Jane Doe was made so forcibly public, as it was clear from the testimony that no records actually exist at the Central Office or at HVRHS regarding the reason for the medical leave. Apparently, the reasons behind the need for a medical leave were never a part of the employee’s file, but now they’re all out for the public to see now as a result of the complainant’s statement being submitted as a part of the open Hearing. This is not a very protective way to shield the rights of privacy of an individual.

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