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UPDATE: Tiverton teachers union head Mullen sues after dismissal; District cites 'disruptive behavior'

Action stems from efforts to involve union in remote learning planning, suit claims

By Bruce Burdett
Posted 4/22/20

TIVERTON — Amy Mullen, Tiverton teacher for 25 years and long-time president of the Tiverton teachers union (NEA), has filed suit against the school committee

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UPDATE: Tiverton teachers union head Mullen sues after dismissal; District cites 'disruptive behavior'

Action stems from efforts to involve union in remote learning planning, suit claims

Posted

TIVERTON — Amy Mullen, Tiverton teacher for 25 years and long-time president of the Tiverton teachers union (NEA), has filed suit against the school committee days after being dismissed from her job.

The firing, she said in the suit, was a result of her efforts to become involved on behalf of the union in remote learning planning being done by the district in March and early April.

In response to comments made by union leadership, the school district’s attorney replied Wednesday afternoon.

Speaking, he said, for the school district, attorney Stephen Robinson issued the following statement:

“Ms. Mullen’s termination was due solely to the latest in a series of incidents where she has engaged in unprofessional and disruptive behavior.  Rather than collaborate as a role model and problem solver during a time of pandemic she has chosen to continue her pattern of being divisive and obstructive.  Her termination had nothing to do with her role as union president.

In her suit, Ms. Mullen claims that she was rebuked by Superintendent of Schools Peter Sanchioni who, she said, refused to let her attend a March meeting being held to discuss and plan for remote learning in the schools. She claims she had made several requests that the superintendent include the union in any discussion of the new remote learning situation.

The superintendent, she claims in her case, said she would be cited for insubordination if she persisted. Subsequently, she said the superintendent told her he would be recommending to the school committee that she placed on leave without pay, be told to stop involvement on behalf of teachers and, be dismissed at the end of the school year. 

Two weeks ago, the committee voted unanimously to fire Ms. Muillen.

“Meanwhile,” Mr. Robinson added. “like many teachers and principals around the state, the teachers of Tiverton have pitched in with professionalism, dedication and hard work in order to make distance learning a success for all our children and families.  It is unfortunate that Ms. Mullen has continued her bad faith campaign to impede the progress being made in Tiverton under the Superintendent’s leadership.”

 Union statement

The state teachers union issued this statement Tuesday evening regarding Ms. Mullen's firing:

“This is by far the most egregious attack on a teacher and union leader I’ve seen in my 28 years at NEA Rhode Island, said NEARI Executive Director Robert A. Walsh, Jr. “Amy Mullen is a 25-year educator in Tiverton and has served as NEA Tiverton president for 20. She advocates for her special education students, their families and NEA Tiverton members every day. That is why when she learned Superintendent Sanchioni was moving forward with a distance-learning plan without input from teachers, she asked if they could discuss the plan.

“Amy offered no hardline union negotiations. No hold up of distance learning. She asked a question. And she was terminated for it.

“Instead of working collaboratively within the framework of the collective bargaining agreement – which the Superintendent has failed to do on multiple occasions – Sanchioni and the Tiverton School Committee chose to silence Amy and prohibit her from speaking to her members, parents and students. In so doing, they violated her First Amendment rights and opened themselves up to personal liability in addition to their official capacity.

“Peter Sanchioni, aided and abetted by the Tiverton School Committee, is a bully and long ago proved himself a union obstructionist in his negotiation tactics and refusal to bargain or allow Amy to attend to her duties. They have demonstrated a clear disdain for the union and union activities and have set out repeatedly and with animus to diminish a local union president – just dig through the grievances and unfair labor practices that have piled up since Sanchioni has been in town. 

“In fact, First Amendment violations are nothing new for Peter Sanchioni – they cost the Town of Natick, MA $70,000.

“Amy was not fired for any reason having to do with her job performance as a teacher. I have no doubt Amy will prevail in her suit and she has the full support of the entire labor movement across the State of Rhode Island.”

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