Friday, November 09, 2007

Administration governs through harassment and intimidation

It is tempting to just complain about the way our schools are run. Everybody has gone through the school system and is therefore an "expert" on what's wrong with our schools. Thoughtless carping does no good. However, there are policies, agreements, and state statutes that are supposed to guide how the system works. Mine is a story of the violation of those guidelines and laws by officials of the District and the use of their powers to hide their actions and the actions of their peers. What follows is perhaps an unbelievable story; I understand if you think, "This just can't be possible." But it is.

How about an age discrimination story of district administrators bullying senior staff members to get them to quit or retire? How about a stated management style of "If you don't like it here, you can go some place else"? How about a standard administrative response of "That's just your perspective" (with a heavy pejorative tone) when any administrative decision is questioned? Or administrators professionally threatening teachers, "Remember, I am your evaluator" when merely asked a clarifying question about a new software program? Perhaps you know that bullies tend to find and recruit other bullies who automatically join in the treatment of the targeted victim(s). How about the lack of upper administration and union response to the allegations of bullying and age discrimination? How about the witnessing of the bullies (they run in packs) bullying two students, threatening to take them to the administrator's house to rototil his yard while wearing matching coveralls as a punishment for their past misbehaviors and when the students laughed, they were told, "Don't laugh; this is serious"? How about the potential of a promotion (reward?) of the chief bully into upper administration? Or the final act of a no trespass order against my husband and I because our communication with the District "has become increasingly aggressive" (meaning that we haven't just gone away, so they will make us go away)?

I have some 250 documents that chronicle and validate this story. Officials of the District have only chosen to look at 25-30% of them. Once they realized the extent of the documentation, they have refused to look at the full evidence against their own administrative team. Rather than investigate their own, they chose to discredit us. Discredit the whistleblowers. District administrators do not want you to know how bad things were; they were more interested in keeping us from talking about these allegations. Union officials were less than responsive to requests for assistance. We are a political threat to administrators and yet they twisted that and claimed that we posed a physical threat to the students and faculty (slandering us in front of our former colleagues), threatening them with disciplinary action if they contact us using District equipment (a clearly chilling threat to the rest of the faculty) and swore out the no trespass order.

So what's wrong with bullying staff in order to get them to leave? After all there is no other way to get rid of the "deadwood." Think about it. Who defines "deadwood?" Is running a successful National History Day program, including qualifying students for the National exhibit in Washington, D.C., a sign of "deadwood"? What if it becomes obvious that all of the "deadwood" are over the age of 50? What if one of those designated as "deadwood" is a KCTS 9 Golden Apple Award winner? Or the winner of a grant that allows students to link up with NASA computers? Or a teacher whose students consistently scored higher on the WASL than the other teachers in the building? Google "prolonged duress stress disorder" and you will see why bullying staff (or anybody in the school house) is the wrong thing to do for your students. State law requires staff and administration to model appropriate behavior in regards to bullying. This is a very low standard with no consequences for failure to do so other than public disapproval if it gets out.

This story includes the general practice of extinction applied on a regular basis by office staff as well as administrators. People would simply not talk to you and would just walk by as if you did not exist. Many teachers closed their doors and hid in their rooms in hopes that they would not be the next target. As the adult bullying increased, the student bullying also increased. That is the reason the law states that adults are to model appropriate behavior; if they do not, students will not either. Students said they were afraid to be in the halls; we opened our doors to them before school. Administration used physical size on two occasions that we observed to intimidate students, standing directly in front of students within arms length. Another student begged to not to be sent to the office because he was physically afraid. When I left the school, the halls were beyond control. All of the hall management work instituted before '92 had disappeared. Only a handful of teachers made a regular attempt to be present before and after school in the halls to maintain order and build relationships with students.

The sad part of the story is that many staff did leave rather than face continued bullying or the atmosphere created by the bullying. But perhaps even worse, there are several who are still there, still enduring the treatment. (In fairness to the District, several of the bullies were apparently sent to a workshop on bullying over the summer; was this to explore their bullying? This seems to be confirmation that the District may finally be admitting that they have to do something.)

A democratic workplace that valued input from all was turned into a dictatorship where the opinions of only one person mattered. It only took two years. How do you teach students democracy when they go to school in a dictatorship? Which model will the students see?

Teachers who left lost salaries, received reduced retirement benefits, lost interest on private retirement savings, and pay for health care that would have been paid by the district. The district lost over a hundred years teaching experience.

But the students lost the most in this story; the wisdom and passion of senior staff, a model of appropriate behavior. The mantra of doing "what's best for children" is hollow and false when the District engages, condones, or hides bullying behavior. I felt tremendous guilt when I left mid-year because I felt that I had failed in my goal to protect my students. When I told my students I was leaving, one of them who had had my husband the previous year was visibly upset. "It's not fair! First we lose Mr. Reuther and now you!"

The students are the biggest losers. It is worth repeating. The students are the biggest losers.

Chris Reuther
Richland, WA

Chris Reuther holds a BA in Education from Central Washington University and a Masters in Curriculum Development from City University. She was raised in the Tri-Cities, taught 4th grade in Cle Elum-Roslyn School District, and has held several jobs in the private sector including office manager for Washington School of Insurance and Real Estate pre-license instructor at Bellevue Community College. She has two adult sons. She began subbing in Edmonds in 1985. After numerous long term sub assignments, she was hired in 1991 to teach Language Arts/ Social Studies at Meadowdale Middle. She served over the years as English, Social Studies, and Drama department chair. Most recently she served for the District as a committee member on Classroom Based Assessments. She especially enjoyed creating integrated assignments and developed an Invention research project with her MMS teammates. In 2002 she and her husband began to use the National History Day curriculum to integrate LA/SS learning and teach research skills. They qualified students every year to exhibit at the State contest and in 2005, she mentored a student who qualified for the National exhibit in Washington, D.C. She and her husband had planned to continue teaching until "normal" retirement in 2012. He left the District in March of 2006 under a settlement agreement stating "the reasons for his decision will be described as personal/health related reasons." She left in December of 2006, after 20 years of service to Edmonds students and parents; she chose to retire rather than continue suffering the working conditions that existed at MMS from 2002 until 2007.


Anonymous said...

I would suggest a civil lawsuit, sounds like age discrimination as well as constructive termination. The only way to get a bully to leave you alone, and leave others alone, is to cause him pain that is greater than any benefit derived from bullying.

Lawyers are good at causing pain, if you have a good one, that is. We know the district doesn't.

Anonymous said...

Amazing to me that as soon as the district gets backed into corner on an issue, there is an immediate retaliatory response. They always have a contigency to sit opposition to intellect. The travisty land transactions in terms of $ can't be rivaled, but many decisions on a daily basis that I see, quickly add up. I have seen thousands of taxpayer dollars wasted because middle managers aren't even qualified enough to put a tape measure to good use. Nothing like a $15,000 dollar purchase, that must be sent right on down to maintenance to be retro fitted, because a middle manager can't read a tape measure. The funny thing is, I have actually seen this person use a tape measure for some of these purchases. So what the !@#$ goes wrong? I don't get it. Don't ask me for help, as a regular old employee I probably wouldn't know what the #$&* to do with the thing. This kind of crap just kills me. Hey you, if you're reading...... If you made just one of these terrible decisions in the private sector, we'd be be picking out colors to decorate your adult care home. You know, sadly there is nobody along the way that cares enough to do the right kind of cleansing. If measuring in inches some how keeps you at bay, try measuring in miles. Just turn around, start walking, and count. Easy as one, two, three.

Anonymous said...

Board policies 8207 and 8207-R1 you will find in the student section. HR really does not have anything worth a damn, governing harassment. I know from my personal experiences that there is good reason for the district to not have harassment language in the HR category of the 6000's. Very apparent the district expects its students to set a good example, and lead the way in the "Do unto others" arena. I don't appreciate the district administration exuding this kind of attitude towards me or my children. At this point I have stopped bringing my oldest son around, because of the ill and arrogant treatment toward him in the workplace. Some of you should not be working at any capacity in a school district. Oh yeah.... You know who I'm referring to. And keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

This is exactly why I left.

old teacher said...

I wonder how many teachers have left because of the direct or indirect bullying? I could cite 5, perhaps 6.

Anonymous said...

All this time I've been working in administration and I had no idea the harassing behavior extended to the teaching staff. I, like many other support staff, have always believed that we were the only ones short changed by management. I can not believe how naive I have been.

Anonymous said...

I worked with these people and they where some of the most intelectual and kindest people I had med, while working in the school district. I was set back greatly to come to work and find this kind of stuff going on. However, after my initial upset, I realized that "yes" I too had felt the bullying and had just brushed it off. But I didn't realize it untill I stumbles upon this article that Chris had writen. I think the new administration at the school level is better, but still I keep my eyes and ears open.
It was greatly unfortunate to see the Ruthers leave and then an even bigger blow to see others go as well. There were a few that needed to move on, but not the Ruthers and teachers that left. I now get it and this whole thing will mark my sole and never let me forget how ruthless people of power can, even twards those that are most honest and worthy of continuing make a difference to children.

Anonymous said...

Good lord! Get over yourself! I suppose it must make you feel better to believe such ridiculous stories. Imagine - with stories like yours, I cannot imagine anyone hiring you!