The New Berlin school district remains embattled following a special board meeting last week.
The New Berlin Education Association teachers’ union co-president Tonya Delaney responded Monday saying it is reviewing all legal options and will pursue any legal remedies to protect its members after its leaders received disciplinary action from the board Thursday.
NBEA co-president and high school math teacher Joe Kindred was dismissed by a 5-2 vote while Delaney, a junior high teacher, was suspended with pay for one day for undisclosed reasons per an independent investigation and report by the law firm Tueth, Keeney, Cooper, Mohan & Jackstadt, P.C., which has offices in St. Louis and Edwardsville. Union vice president and junior high teacher Sarah Knepler was exonerated.
The firm’s attorney, Merry Rhoades, was hired in December to investigate Kindred, Delaney and Knepler for "matters including but not limited to student record violations," according to the December board meeting minutes.
New Berlin’s outgoing superintendent, Adam Ehrman, who was not present for the special board meeting on Zoom, declined a phone interview request Monday but said via email that "it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the matter since I was not involved in the matter nor was I present and involved in the board action Items as well that board meeting on any level regarding this matter."
Board President Bill Alexander said "the entire board can’t comment on personnel matters" as well. Ehrman’s last day with the district is Tuesday and he will become the superintendent at the Bourbonnais Elementary School District beginning July 1, about 60 miles south of Chicago. Ehrman has led the New Berlin school district since 2012 and will be replaced by Jill Larson.
Delaney said the NBEA is now working with its parent organization, the Illinois Education Association, in response to what she claims to be retaliation against the union by the board. She also said she has not yet seen nor heard the specific reasons for her suspension, adding she was only notified Tuesday through the board’s agenda that she could be disciplined.
"All I saw was the Zoom meeting in which they read what everyone else heard," Delaney said. "That’s what I know."
Delaney said the teachers’ union will host a rally in front of the high school Thursday at 6 p.m.
The NBEA asked Ehrman to resign with a no-confidence vote in October, citing lack of leadership and cooperation with the union. Delaney said the union’s conflict with the outgoing superintendent started during contract negotiations in fall 2017. Kindred, who was also dismissed as the high school and junior high baseball coach Thursday, and Delaney also co-chair the union’s negotiation team. Contract negotiations are set to begin again in July, Delaney said.
"Our vote of no-confidence in October was for Dr. Ehrman for creating a hostile work environment and harassing teachers and intimidation," said Delaney, who declined to give specific examples. "He has a lot of supporters on the board I believe and so I think this is just a continuation of that problem. Unfortunately in my opinion — and I think in the opinion of many others — it’s seriously affecting our community and our students at this time. If you watch the board meeting you saw how many students spoke out for Joe. It’s really affected a lot of these kids emotionally, seeing their head coach and someone they looked up to being treated this way.
"I feel like the board has mistreated the teachers at our district and continue to support just the entire climate of being disrespectful and intimidating toward the teachers. I feel like the parents need to know that we, the teachers, are there for their kids and that’s our No. 1 priority. The fact that this has taken center stage to the kids is heartbreaking as a teacher."
The board unanimously rebuffed the union’s no-confidence vote at that October meeting by giving a 7-0 vote of confidence in Ehrman instead. An online petition was started Wednesday before the board meeting at Change.org calling for the resignation of board president Alexander and vice president Chris Gordon in favor of the NBEA. It nearly had 500 signatures as of Monday evening.
The New Berlin school board is already facing a civil lawsuit from 1989 graduate Michelle Stolleis Forbes for alleged sexual abuse by former teacher Carroll Owen Smith during during her time there. Forbes is seeking in excess of $50,000 in damages plus attorney fees.
Contact Bill Welt: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter.com/BillWelt.
via The State Journal-Register
June 29, 2020 at 08:17PM