(Baton Rouge – May 2, 2012) Despite evidence that charter school teachers have lost their jobs for reporting criminal activities, a legislative committee today rejected a bill aimed at protecting whistle blowers.
Charter school teachers are at-will employees with few job protections, and many are afraid to speak out when they see laws and policy procedures broken, according to United Teachers of New Orleans President Larry Carter.
“Because of pressure to do as they are told, teachers and school employees in New Orleans charter schools are afraid to bring issues to light,” Carter told the House and Governmental Affairs Committee. “They fear reprisal.”
The UTNO President and Louisiana Federation of Teachers Legislative Director Mary Patricia Wray urged lawmakers to approve House Bill 1149 by Rep. James Armes (D-Leesville). The bill would have doubled the penalty on charter schools for punishing educators who report infractions. It would have also required action on complaints within 90 days. Currently there is no time limit, and some complaints have languished for more than a year.
Carter told the panel about shocking cases in which charter school employees were punished for reporting violations.
In one well-reported scandal, Carter said, three teachers at Abramson Science and Technology Charter School in New Orleans lost their jobs after reporting cases of sexual misconduct between students at the school. One was terminated within weeks of the report, and the others’ contracts were not renewed for the next school year. A state education official who warned of problems at the school was also fired.
While the school’s charter was eventually revoked, the three teachers were never rehired.
In another example cited by Carter, a middle school teacher in a charter school sent his principal an e-mail about special education students who were not receiving the services they needed. Within a week, he said, the teacher was suspended and later terminated.
Rep. Armes told the committee that “We are here because of things that are happening in charter schools in New Orleans. Terrible things.”
The bill was opposed by the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools and the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
LAPCS policy director Veronica Brooks said the bill is unnecessary because existing laws should protect educators. She also said it is unfair to double the penalty for charter schools over what would be imposed against traditional public schools.
If schools are are doing the right thing, Wray responded, they don’t have to worry about the penalty. “We are here because charter schools are the ones who are not following the law,” she said.
Faced with opposition from both the politically potent charter school organization and the state education board, the committee quickly killed the bill. Only one member, Rep. Girod Jackson (D-Harvey) voted in favor. Casting “no” votes were Reps. Taylor Barras (R-New Iberia), John Berthelot (R-Gonzales), Stuart Bishop (R-Lafayette), Mike Danahay (D-Sulphur), Tony Ligi (R-Metairie), Gregory Miller (R-Norco) and Tim Burns (R-Mandeville).