Community Supports PWCS Teachers Alleging Workplace Bullying

| May 3, 2018 | 0 Comments | Education

Approximately 150 Prince William teachers and parents showed up to the Prince William County School Board meeting, May 2, to support the staff at Ronald Reagan Middle School and other teachers who allegedly experienced bullying and intimidation at the hand of their schools’ administrators.

Supporters dressed in bright blue and held signs outside the Kelly Leadership Center, standing in two rows on each side of the entrance walkway so that everyone who entered the building would see their protest.

The rally was triggered by a letter that PWCS Associate Superintendent of Middle Schools Bill Bixby sent to the RRMS community, explaining the results of an outside investigation into accusations of staff bullying at RRMS by the administration.

Teachers and parents took offense that the letter described the teachers who lobbying complaints to an outside investigator as a small group of “disconcerted” individuals when the outcome says that 25% of the faculty members who were interviewed said they experienced a form of bullying.

The rally was co-organized by Reagan parents and the Prince William Education Association. Most in attendance said it is not a problem that is unique to Reagan, but that it is a systematic problem.

In attendance were several Bristow Run Elementary School teachers. They said they experienced a similarly toxic atmosphere at their school a few years ago. They noted that it took two years to get the problem properly addressed, and only after they took the issue public.

“We’ve been here. We’ve done this,” said a BRE teacher.

“Retaliation is a real thing,” said one teacher whose child attended BRE. “People are afraid.”

They said the BRE principal was also never fired, but moved to be a “Principal on Special Assignment.”

Many who attended the rally were angry that the division continues to keep failing principals believing it has a negative effect on teachers and school.

“Really we’ve had enough,” said teacher and PWEA leadership member Shannon Geraghty. “This issue isn’t really dealt with. They just shuffle people around. It’s disrespectful to teachers, calling them discontented.”

People took offense at that particular comment, saying the school division is calling making them the perpetrators rather than the victims, and essentially calling them liars.

One teacher’s assistant held a sign that said: “I’m neither a liar nor a disconcerted employee.”

Many teachers wanted it noted that they personally work with excellent administrators but have either previously experienced some form of bullying, seen it at their children’s schools or heard first-hand reports from colleagues. They wanted to stand for teachers who may be too afraid of retaliation to come out themselves.

Following the outside rally, many teachers and supporters spoke during citizen time, explaining their concern and disbelief over the way the Reagan situation was handled.

A woman named Kelly said Reagan employees reached out to division leadership to no avail. She claims that one teacher who filed a former complaint was removed from the building. It sent the message, “speak and you will be asked to leave.” “This person disappeared,” she said.

While RRMS’s principal allegedly scared some, others still attempted to make their concerns heard. In late November, several teachers talked with PWEA, which then reached out to division leadership. Teachers next met with their school board member. People even wrote “PLEASE HELP US” on their end of the year surveys.

After news hit the media on Bristow Beat, Kelly said the community organized its own social media group  They began to organize, and with the PWEA they demanded the outside investigation into the work environment. Division leadership accommodated them, but leadership had a different interpretation of the results than most community members did.

The results showed that 25% of teachers who were interviewed said they felt intimidated. However, the action letter dismissed those teachers as a small fractious group, blaming them for the environment at the middle school, not the other way around.

Kelly asked if 37 students said they felt bullied, would it be okay to ignore, blame and chastise them? “What is the magic number?” she asked.

PWEA President Riley O’Casey said that besides being disrespectful to teachers, parts of the letter were simply “copied and pasted” from previous letters regarding similar situations.

The division has created a “fierce lack of trust among employees,” said O’Casey, and the letter simply “confirms” what teachers had suspected that the school leadership “does not care what they think and does not want to hear from them.”

Bonnie Klakowitz was PWEA President when the RRMS Principal was principal of Coles Elementary School. She said Coles teacher came into her office, explaining she could not drive her own car to her office because the principal allegedly said she would be looking for it.

Regarding the principal being reassigned to work in human resources, she asked how that works exactly. “Was there an opening? Was there a job created for her? Was she allowed to see the testimony to see the remarks to the independent person? Were their names redacted?”

One teacher said administrators need to be superheroes to inspire teachers and children. Certainly, some are amazing, but many need to do better.

One woman said something needed to be added to the letter, a pledge that PWCS will never stand for bullying.

After each speech, the audience erupted in thunderous applause.

Before Citizen’s Time, new Interim Chairman Barbar Lateef proactively addressed the issue: “We care deeply about the teachers in our community,” he said. Wishing them a happy teacher’s appreciation next week, he added, “we always listen and we always hear.”

School Board members Alyson Satterwhite (Gainesville) and Gil Trenum (Brentsville) wrote statements to the school division that they disagree with the message of the letter.

Virginia HB 1044, which passed both House and Senate would require school boards to make policies against employee bullying, investigate allegations of employee bullying, protect employees from retribution and discipline employees engaging in such practices.

The bill was introduced by Luke Torian (D-Woodbridge) and supported by several local legislators.

Peggy Fox of WUSA 9 attended the meeting and recorded a television segment on the controversy.

© 2018, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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