How union solidarity saved one teacher's job

“March 11, 2008. Dear Mr. Bennett: Based on the results of the investigatory conference held on February 13, 2008, I have determined that sufficient basis exists to terminate your services as a probationary appointed teacher in the Chicago Public Schools. Therefore, you are hereby notified that you are suspended without pay, effective March 12. 2008.” At the time of the year when many CPS staff are also being terminated or displaced, it might be wise to look at what happened to one individual’s story of overcoming the odds.

Bennett, who was working as disciplinarian, had a run-in with a student. Although the student involved was an adult and the facts of this case were public record, the name of the student will not be used and will be referred to as “the student.”

For clarification this article is a narrative of the events of one individual Mr. Bennett.

It all started on October 31, 2007 approximately 2:10 p.m. “While doing his duty as Disciplinarian at Hyde Park Career Academy, Mr. Bennett in is own words: a request by Mr. Vanderkyul approached myself (Mr. Bennett) to get the student out of the gym who had verbally assaulted him. When I got there, I called the student over. As he approached, he yelled out “youuuuuuuuu” and pointed to Mr. Vanderkyul. I asked him if he thought this was a joke and he responded by asking me who I was talking to. I told him that I was talking to him at which time he waved his hands and told me to ‘be up’ and he walked away. I reached out to redirect him back to our general direction, which is when he became physically disruptive by grabbing my wrist and shirt. At this point I started to direct him towards the gym exit. He began to physically struggle, and was then restrained until security arrived in the gym.” The student was arrested and charged with “Aggravated Battery to a protected employee” (CPD RD# HN-680904). In the Case No: 07 MC11311419 the student pleaded guilty to the charges and there was an agreement made for supervision and community service to keep the student’s “record clean” — as Judge Angela Petrone stated on December 5, 2007.

Case over so you think

With the case having been adjudicated, everyone thought the case was over — except CPS.

Mr. Bennett then got a notice of hearing letter on January 30, 2008, standard procedure in any incident involving physical contact with a student, CPS officials said. The hearing was scheduled for February 13, 2008. In the meantime an investigator (Officer Wiggins) for the Board of Education interviewed Mr. Bennett, who spoke without union representation. Nate Dickson, the Field Representative, was contacted regarding the hearing and told the facts of the case. In response he stated that there would be no problems that this was a cut and dry case of an employee doing his job.

After the hearing in February, the reports for both Bennett and Dickson were positive. Then we get to where the nightmare began. On March 11, 2008, from out of nowhere, without even the Principal knowing, Bennett was suspended. As the Delegate at Hyde Park, I immediately called the Field Representative (Nate Dickson). The response form Dickson was that Bennett was a PAT and let it go. There was no way to reverse the ruling, he explained. Nowhere to turn

We mobilized — Bennett, the administrative staff and Union Delegate at Hyde Park to fight the termination. Letters to the union, the board and the media flooded out of emails, faxes and the mailbox. Non-stop coordinated advocacy for someone who was committed to his duties as an employee was intensified and expanded to change the decision of termination.

An Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) was filed in regards to the facts that the student pleaded guilty to the charges. An Emergency Grievance under Article 44-9 – Immediate Safety and Security Risk to Staff due to the fact that Mr. Bennett has the duty of preventing problems and addressing discipline issues at Hyde Park. We pointed out: “During his tenure there has been reduction of incidents involving staff and students. Additionally, terminating the disciplinarian during the school year would send the wrong message to the criminal element within the student population at Hyde Park Academy. In effect you are giving the green light to the students that no one will be over discipline for the rest of the school year and it is open season on any and all staff who stand up for normal behavior from students.”

The union eventually got back involved after numerous requests and filings. A union attorney was never provided to Mr. Bennett, even when he requested one in writing. Marilyn Stewart did make an appeal to the Board that this was a mistake. In the end, what did save Mr. Bennett was the ULP and the negotiating of the School Delegate directly with the Board — even negotiating the settlement to get Mr. Bennett back to work. Bennett was restored to his full employee status without a break in service and four weeks back pay.

Why Care?

No matter what the situation is, there is hope. Mr. Bennett was on the Board Agenda to be terminated, and it was taken off. In my research of this with many veteran unionists this has never happened as a far as they know.

Even when the union had given up, it’s not time to give up. As Mr. Dickson told Mr. Bennett during a meeting, “that Kugler is just starting trouble.” “Starting trouble” worked. We cannot loose sight that when we stand together we are strong. When we allow individuals to sabotage our rights to due process and representation; we must fight on. Victory is the right to work free of worry that we will be terminated for doing our jobs. Victory is forcing the union to protect every member under any circumstance. Victory is standing up for our rights! 


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