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School Plans to Fire Teacher for Talking

PHILADELPHIA (CN) - The Philadelphia Public School District yanked a teacher from her classroom, stuck her in solitary confinement and threatened to fire her because the teacher dared to oppose a plan to turn her public high school into a charter school, at a public meeting and in blog postings, the teacher's union says. It expects the teacher, a member of the union's bargaining team, to be fired today.

"It is unprecedented for the School District to remove any teacher from the classroom to School District administrative detention who did not engage in any acts of violence, physical misconduct, or similarly threatening behavior," the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and its President Jerry Jordan say in their federal, constitutional complaint.

The union, Local 3 of the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, expects teacher Hope Moffett to be fired today.

On Jan. 25, the principal of Audenried High School announced over the school's public address system that the school had been designated to become a charter school, run by a private company, before the beginning of the new academic year.

A week later, the district held two meetings to discuss the plan with the public, students, teachers and staff. At both gatherings, school board members said that Audenried was being turned into a charter school because of poor student performance.

"At the community meeting, Moffett addressed the School District representative," the complaint states. "Knowledgeable about the School District's regular reports concerning Audenried's academic performance over the past two years, Moffett told the School District representatives that, contrary to their statements, the School District's performance reports demonstrated that Audenried had demonstrably improved its academic performance since it reopened as a new school is 2008."

Moffett asked what data the officials had used to justify their conclusions. She also asked about the qualifications of the private company that had been chosen to run the charter school. Her questions went unanswered, according to the complaint.

But at the meeting, a reporter for The Notebook, an online publication covering the Philadelphia school district, asked Moffett for the performance data she mentioned - and asked if she wanted to write as a blogger for the news outlet.

She agreed.

In the days that followed, community members and students held protest rallies. Moffett did not encourage students to attend the demonstrations, but the union says, as was her longstanding practice, she loaned some students public transportation tokens when they asked for them.

"Moffett is well known by students and Audenried school administrators as a teacher who would use her own resources to give students clothing, food, books, supplies, equipment and transportation tokens when they sought assistance," the complaint states.

The next day Moffett was summoned from her classroom over the school's public address system. Upon arriving at the principal's office, she was handed a sealed envelope. Inside was the letter that told her she was being temporarily reassigned.

The letter added: "You are directed not to discuss this matter. Failure to follow this directive will result in disciplinary action."

But Moffett did disclose the contents of the letter, in interviews with the press and in discussions with others. This led to the series of disciplinary hearings that are expected to culminate in her firing today.

Until that happens, "Moffett continues to be confined in administrative detention and isolation, with no substantive assignments of any character, in a basement room at the Academic Division Office, pending further action ... on the recommendation of her termination."

While in detention, "Moffett was placed in a room that was also used as a storage area. The room was extremely hot, and the door was locked from the outside. She was informed that she was to be 'alone and isolated.'" the complaint states.

A recommendation that Moffett be fired was sent to the superintendent on March 8.

The union it expects her to be fired at a second disciplinary meeting scheduled for today.

The union says that Moffett, an English teacher, had been considered an exemplary employee during her 2½ years with the district.

The district's attitude toward her changed dramatically only after she spoke up in public.

Named as defendants are the School District of Philadelphia, its School Reform Commission and its members, Superintendent Diane Ackerman and Assistant Superintendent for High Schools Linda Cliatt-Wayman.

The union seeks injunctive relief and damages for constitutional violations.

It is represented by Nancy B.G. Lassen with Willig, Williams & Davidson.

It is common for school superintendents to order public schoolteachers to shut their mouths about matters of public concern in the schools, and it is common for teachers to follow those orders.

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