If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say . . .
Like many people nowadays, Natalie Munroe had a blog where she shared tips about cooking and child rearing. The high school English teacher from Doylestown, PA, also used her blog to sound off about her students, referring to them as “jerks,” “rat-like,” and “frightfully dim.” Her students’ parents fared no better on her blog; she wrote that parents were “breeding a disgusting brood of insolent, unappreciative, selfish brats.” In one post, Munroe made a list of comments she wished she could write about her students including “a complete and utter jerk in all ways,” “though academically ok, your kid has no other redeeming qualities,” “liar and cheater,” and “utterly loathsome in all imaginable ways.”
Students started sharing the blog posts on social media. Once the school administration caught wind of the blog in February 2011, Munroe was placed on an immediate, unpaid suspension. By that time Munroe’s plight had been covered by several major news outlets and her appearances on television did nothing but fan the flames. After taking a maternity leave for the rest of the semester, Munroe returned to work in August 2011. In the meantime, she received her first-ever negative performance evaluation from the Superintendent. She continued to receive negative evaluations after her return to work and was required to submit overly detailed lesson plans. Munroe was terminated on June 26, 2012 for her supposed poor performance and she filed suit alleging that the school district retaliated against her for her exercise of her First Amendment rights.
In Munroe v. Central Bucks School District, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of PA granted summary judgment to the school district on July 25, 2014, meaning that Munroe could not pursue her case. It is well settled that a public employee’s speech is protected when he or she speaks as a private citizen upon a matter of public concern and the employee’s interest in exercising his or her First Amendment rights is greater than the employer’s interest in the efficient operation of the public agency. Unfortunately for Munroe, the court found that while her blog occasionally touched upon matters of public concern, the harm caused by the blog’s “personal invective” outweighed the potential public value of her other posts. The court noted that Munroe’s speech, “in both effect and tone, was sufficiently disruptive so as to diminish any legitimate interest in its expression, and thus her expression was not protected.” The lesson for public employees here is that if you want to join the blogosphere, stick to sharing your best zucchini bread recipes.
Arbitrator rules that a teacher without professional teacher status is entitled to procedural protections under the collective bargaining agreement before a School Committee can non-renew the teacher’s appointment.
In this case, the teacher was notified of the intention to non-renew her appointment on May 26, 2009 and then dismissed on June 7, 2009. The arbitrator found that the teacher was denied reappointment as a consequence of the evaluation process and that the procedures followed in that evaluation process violated the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement. The collective bargaining agreement required that the information that formed the basis for the recommendation to non-renew a teacher must be properly documented before the notice of intent to non-renew. The arbitrator also specifically relied on DESE regulations which provide that a teacher must be given “a reasonable amount of time… to implement the recommendations for improvement of performance and to meet performance standards.” In this case the arbitrator found that the teacher’s supervisor failed to give the teacher anything in writing to establish any deadlines. The arbitrator noted that “Experience demonstrates that parties to a conversation often draw different impressions about the substance and tenor of the discussion. And, consequently, it is generally a good practice to follow-up important conversations with confirmatory letters or memoranda.”
Therefore, the School Department’s failure to document the teacher’s claimed deficiencies and give the teacher proper written notice of those alleged deficiencies along with an opportunity to correct the issues violated the collective bargaining agreement.
The teacher was therefore ordered to be reinstated with full back pay and benefits.
Sandulli Grace successfully argued before the Appeals Court that a teacher is eligible for creditable service for retirement for service performed out of state so long as that service is in a day school that is under exclusive public control. It does not have to be for a school committee or a board of trustees. In the Weston case, the teacher had taught special needs students in Virginia before the public schools provided special education. Rodney Weston taught in a school in Fairfax Virginia which was under the control of the Department of Health, a public entity. The Teacher’s Retirement System had denied his application to buy back the service credit because the employer was not a school committee or a board of trustees. The Appeals Court found that the MTRS, CRAB and the Superior Court were all wrong in their interpretation of the statute by improperly limiting the service eligible for service credit. The case is Rodney Weston vs. Contributory Retirement Appeal Board, 09-P-475 March 18, 2010.
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