By Ben Velderman
ANDOVER, Mass. – Jennifer Meagher broke down in tears during her recent testimony before Massachusetts state labor officials, recounting how she was fired from her job as an English teacher with Andover High School last fall.
Meagher said she was “stunned” that district officials fired her for “conduct unbecoming of a teacher” after she sent an email last June to 60 fellow teachers, urging them to derail the school’s reaccreditation process to gain leverage during union contract negotiations with the district, reports EagleTribune.com.
“People who are fired for conduct unbecoming of a teacher do things like have sexual relationships with students or hit students,” Meagher said during her testimony. “They do horrible things to kids. I was being given that label officially. That was now a part of my professional record.”
We’re glad to hear that, because what Meagher tried to do Andover students could only be described as “horrible” and “conduct unbecoming of a teacher.”
Meagher’s troubles all started with a June 10, 2012 email that she sent to dozens of teacher union members, urging them to “put a hold on” the school’s reaccreditation process by refusing to vote on a series of reports related to that process until district officials agreed not to increase teachers’ workload.
The school board wanted to increase teachers’ daily workload from five classes to six, as a way of saving the financially strapped district $500,000 and reducing swelling class sizes, reports AndoverTownsman.com.
But Meagher – a former union leader – hated that proposal, and told her fellow union members the reaccreditation process “is the only leverage we have left at the bargaining table.
“If, in the end, the (school board) decides that saving $500,000 is more important than preserving accreditation, then so be it,” Meagher wrote in the email. “At least we will know we’ve done all that we can.”
Meagher’s suggestion was absolutely appalling and unacceptable, especially coming from a so-called educator.
Here’s why: A school’s accreditation is essentially a seal of approval that tells prospective employers and college admissions officers that graduates from the district received a quality education.
If students graduate from an unaccredited school – as Meagher was willing to let happen – their academic qualifications could be called into question as they seek entrance into competitive colleges and universities. Students could find themselves being subjected to more scrutiny than their fellow applicants, and risk being passed over.
In short, Meagher was willing to jeopardize her students’ academic futures for her union’s gain.
How can that be considered anything other than “conduct unbecoming a teacher”?
The Andover Education Association – Meagher’s union – claims her suggestion was “protected union activity,” making the teacher’s firing illegal, reports AndoverTownsman.com.
The union is also arguing that since not enough teachers followed Meagher’s call to action (they voted on the reports after all), no harm was done; therefore no punishment should be meted out.
The AEA wants state labor officials to restore Meagher’s career, and order the district to provide her with back pay and benefits, reports AndoverTownsman.com.
After Meagher’s email was made public last June, school board President Paula Colby-Clements offered a blunt analysis of why the teacher deserved to be booted from the ranks of respectable educators.
“The (reaccreditation) process is supposed to be an academic and professional process, in which the faculty assess the strengths and weaknesses of the high school,” Colby-Clements to EagleTribune.com. “It is not supposed to be a political process.
“To try to use the accreditation for anything else amounts to nothing other than blackmail, in my opinion,” she said. “On every level imaginable, this is just plain wrong.”
It’s hard to argue with that summation. The school district was right to show Meagher the door.