PROVIDENCE, R.I. (CN) - Seventy-seven teachers who lost their jobs in a mass firing in February sued the Central Falls School District and its Superintendent Frances Gallo. The teachers union also sued Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, demanding reinstatement and a protective injunction. The teachers, who worked at Central Falls High School, say the mass firing violated federal education laws and the Constitution.
Gallo fired the entire high school staff in February, including the principal, three assistant principals, 74 classroom teachers and a number of guidance counselors and reading specialists. Ninety-three employees were told they would not be rehired for the 2010-2011 school year.
Gallo blamed the teachers union for its "callous disregard" of her proposal to improve graduation rates.
Gallo wanted to add 25 minutes to the school day and called for teachers to provide tutoring on a rotating schedule, to eat lunch with students once a week, to submit to rigorous evaluations, to attend 90-minute weekly planning sessions after school and take in two weeks of training at a rate of $30 per hour during the summer.
Gallo said she was following Commissioner Gist's "Protocols for Interventions: Persistently Lowest-Achieving Schools," a document issued in January this year that offered four "models" to improve schools: "the Turnaround Model, the Restart Model, the School Closure Model, and the Transformation Model." These models "were adapted directly from the U.S. Department of Education's Guidance on School Improvement Grants," according to the complaint.
Gallo chose the Transformation Model for Central Falls High School, and claimed that she chose it, oddly, perhaps, "because it 'honors our dedicated teachers and their expertise.'"
Gallo told the high school staff by letter on Feb. 9 that "unless it agreed to her demands, as aforesaid, she would either terminate all of the teachers or inform Commissioner Gist that 'we have collectively failed to select an intervention
model for the high school.'"
Through its president Jane Sessums, the teachers union, Local 1567 of the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, responded in a letter of Feb. 11 that they "could not and would not agree to change the collective bargaining agreement without reviewing certain relevant information and meeting with the Dr. Gallo regarding 'changes in time, compensation, or other issues related to the transformation model.'"
Gallo then fired them all. Gist approved the mass firing on Feb. 23. The Central Falls School Board voted later that day to fire the entire staff.
The union claims the mass firing violated due process, and that the Transformation Model did not empower the superintendent or the school board to violate the collective bargaining agreement. That agreement states that teachers must be given "individualized reasons" for being fired, and the right to a formal hearing with 24 hours notice.
Gallo claims she has the right to fire the teachers based on federal education regulations and state laws that allow the state to intervene in failing districts.
Central Falls, one of the poorest cities in Rhode Island, is also home to the some of the state's lowest-achieving students. In January, Commissioner Gist named Central Falls High School one of the state's worst schools and gave Gallo the go-ahead to make serious changes.
The union says no hearings for the fired teachers have been held or even scheduled. On April 26, Sessums says, she received a letter from Gallo, telling her that the teachers' jobs would be posted that day, because "time is short and we need to move forward."
The teachers seek declaratory judgment that the defendants conspired to violate their civil rights, rescission of their terminations, a protective injunction, and "an order requiring defendants to provide each CFHS teacher with a full evidentiary hearing in compliance with the collective bargaining agreement, state law and the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution."
They are represented by Marc Gursky with Gursky Law Associates of North Kingstown, R.I.