Fired over Distance Learning
Rhode Island Union President wanted to be involved in discussions
Teachers in Tiverton, Rhode Island are rallying to support their union President who was fired from her teaching job for advocating for her members as the district instituted distance learning protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Amy Mullen, a 25-year special education teacher and 20 year union President, in the Tiverton school district, was recently fired from her job by the district’s Superintendent Peter Sanchioni. In an email that was sent to teachers, staff, and parents in the district, Sanchioni said that Mullen was fired because she was uncooperative, unprofessional, and persistently “divisive and obstructive.”
According to Mullen and the National Education Association of Rhode Island (NEARI), Mullen’s crime was demanding a seat at the table for the union when the district began discussing distance learning.
“While more than willing to discuss the changes that the pandemic necessitated, Mullen - like her peer presidents throughout the state - insisted, nonetheless, that he could not simply impose what he wanted and what he contrived without input,” said NEARI in a statement.
According a lawsuit that Mullen filed to contest her termination, in mid-March Mullen notified the district that the union should be a part of any discussion about distance learning. When the district didn’t invite her to the meetings, she attempted to attend them in her capacity as a union President, but was barred. "Sanchioni raised his voice, told Mullen she was not invited to the meeting and told her he would write her up for insubordination if she did not leave," the lawsuit claims. Mullen contests that Sanchioni had no right to write her up since she was functioning as a union President at the time.
Sanchioni and the district then suspended Mullen on March 21st and fired her on April 14th. As part of her suspension and then termination the district ordered her to "cease and desist all communication" with students, parents, the school committee, and staff. This includes sending communications to members of her union. This is the second time that the district has tried to issue a gag order on Mullin. In 2019 the district issued a gag order against her, only to have unfair labor practice complaints filed with the Rhode Island Labor Relations Board. A federal court then ordered Sanchioni to rescind the gag order.
This action by the district was clearly an effort to silence the union. Across the country teachers’ unions have been working in collaboration with their districts to roll out distance learning programs. Yet Tiverton wanted to go it alone without input from their teachers and they used this as a way to silence someone who they precieved to be a thorn in their side.
“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.”
On Thursday, nearly 500 staff members showed up for a “rolling rally” to support Mullen. Over 350 cars lined up outside of the High School with signs reading “Bring Back Amy.” A website has even been set up to demand her immediate reinstatement. So far a petition supporting her has over 500 signatures and the union is asking everyone to email and call Sanchioni and demand that Mullen be rehired.