Addressing the Bullying Effort by Louisiana Teachers Union

Recently the Louisiana Association of Educators threatened to sue private schools if they participate in the Pelican State’s new voucher program. As the Wall Street Journal reports,

Teachers unions allege that sending public dollars to nonpublic schools violates the state’s constitution, and they are challenging the law in court. A hearing is set for October, but the unions have already lost several court bids to delay the voucher program until the lawsuit plays out. Hence, the bullying.

Louisiana’s voucher program is adjusted for family income and is intended above all to give a shot at a decent education to underprivileged minorities, who are more likely to be relegated to the worst public schools. Forty-four percent of Louisiana public schools received a D or F ranking under the state’s grading system, and some 84% of the kids in the program come from one of those low-performing schools.

So to save some unionized teachers’ jobs, the union is willing to sentence thousands of children to a rotten education and ultimately very limited career – and life – possibilities. (Could this be what American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten was alluding to last week when she talked about “connecting with community and proposing solutions” as part of her laughable “solution driven unionism?”)

Fortunately for the bullied schools, some good guys have stepped forth to help. The Alliance for School Choice and the Institute for Justice have offered their services by creating a legal defense fund to assist the private schools. Unfortunately, two of the 119 schools that were threatened, have been scared off. The good news is that 117 are hanging in and standing up to the bullies.

The union will undoubtedly lose its legal case, and even worse, get clobbered in the court of pubic opinion.

Another example of disturbing union behavior came in the form of a scathing op-ed written by former CNN and NBC news reporter Campbell Brown. She writes in the Wall Street Journal that in New York, “Teachers Unions Go to Bat for Sexual Predators.”

An arbitrator in 2007 found that teacher Alexis Grullon had victimized young girls with repeated hugging, “incidental though not accidental contact with one student’s breast” and “sexually suggestive remarks.” The teacher had denied all these charges. In the end the arbitrator found him “unrepentant,” yet punished him with only a six-month suspension.

Another example from 2007: Teacher William Scharbach was found to have inappropriately touched and held young boys. “Respondent’s actions at best give the appearance of impropriety and at worst suggest pedophilia,” wrote the arbitrator—before giving the teacher only a reprimand. The teacher didn’t deny the touching but denied that it was inappropriate.

Then there was teacher Steven Ostrin, who in 2010 was found to have asked a young girl to give him a striptease, harassed students by text, and engaged in sexual banter. The arbitrator in his case concluded that since the teacher hadn’t actually solicited sex from students, the charges—all of which the teacher denied—warranted only a suspension.

As Brown claims, the problem with the current system is that the final decision is left to an arbitrator who is paid up to $1,400 per day and whose livelihood….

…depends on pleasing the unions (whether the United Federation of Teachers in New York City, or other local unions). And the unions—believing that they are helping the cause of teachers by being weak on sexual predators—prefer suspensions and fines, and not dismissal, for teachers charged with inappropriate sexual conduct. The effects of this policy are mounting.

State Senator Stephen Saland has proposed legislation that would remove the arbitrator and give firing power to local school districts. We wish the senator well, but fear his bill will meet the same fate as a similar measure in California this past June. As I wrote in City Journal, Senate Bill 1530 would have given firing decisions in certain cases of abuse to the school district, all the while maintaining a teacher’s due process rights. After the bill breezed through the State Senate, it was derailed in the Assembly education committee where the teachers unions ensured it did not get the required “yeas” to go to a full assembly vote.

Needless to say, Randi Weingarten couldn’t ignore Brown’s op-ed and the two of them wound up in something of a cat fight on Twitter. First, Weingarten insisted that her union was behind the “Feinberg recommendations,” a roadmap that purports to simplify the teacher dismissal maze that currently exists in New York. The only problem with the recommendations is that they really aren’t an improvement on the status quo. As pundit RiShawn Biddle writes,

…the Feinberg recommendations are still rather weak sauce, especially in light of the fact that it still keeps in place state laws and processes that make it almost impossible for school and district leaders to fire teachers who don’t belong in classrooms. This, in turn, explains why so many schools and districts become mired in cultures of low expectations in which moral and educational misbehavior is rampant and tolerated until the spotlight is shown on them.

After Brown dismissed the “recommendations,” Weingarten got personal. (The use of ad hominem attacks is invariably a sign that someone is losing an argument.) She pointed to the fact that Brown’s husband Dan Senor is an adviser to (gasp!) Mitt Romney. Weingarten also revealed that he is also on the board of the New York branch of Students First, the organization run by Weingarten’s archenemy Michelle Rhee. As my grandmother used to say, “What does that have to do with the price of tea in China?” Brown wrote a serious editorial about a troubling issue and is being attacked because her husband is involved with people that Weingarten dislikes. Using that same line of thinking, Weingarten should refrain from saying anything about Romney. You see, Hilary Rosen, Weingarten’s love interest and Democratic operative, slimed Ann Romney, saying that the mother of five “has actually never worked a day in her life.”

Teachers unions’ anti-student and anti-parent behavior here is nothing new. Not that long ago, the National Education Association did its best to keep thousands of kids in rotten Washington D.C. schools, sending threatening letters to every Democratic member of Congress warning them not to support the popular D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. And just last summer, the Connecticut affiliate of Weingarten’s AFT portrayed parents as “the enemy” and managed to eviscerate a parent trigger bill which would have empowered parents in the Nutmeg State.

As I wrote last week, Weingarten’s newspeak isn’t going to fool anyone. Fewer people are shocked by the teachers unions’ disturbing behavior. And when enough parents and the general public become fed up, expect a revolt. Wisconsin was only the beginning.

(Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. Originally posted on Union Watch.)