Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Did Telling Parents The Truth Get This Teacher Fired?

A first-year California high school teacher lost her position the day after telling parents that she didn't have enough supplies to do her job. A firestorm of controversy then erupted:
Danielle Bruns, a first-year teacher fired from River Valley High School, said Thursday she and her lawyer are “exploring their options” against the Yuba City Unified School District.

“I believe from the facts that I have, that the termination of Danielle (Bruns) was wrong, quite possibly illegal and unlawful,” said Carmichael lawyer Mike McCallum, who represents teachers. “But it's still early in the process. Nothing is firm right now.”

Bruns, a world history teacher at the new high school in Yuba City, said she was fired last week - one day after telling parents at a back-to-school night she did not have the supplies she needed.

“A parent asked me why their child didn't have much homework. I told them I had a set in the classroom but had been told repeatedly by the library that there were not enough to check out, so the kids couldn't take any home,” Bruns said. “The next day, I was called in and they told me that they could tell I was unhappy and that I was not a good match for the school.”

Bruns said she had trouble getting supplies from her first day, including an overhead projector, maps, white board markers and teachers' manuals.

“I was promised everything when I started here, and I never even got teachers' editions of books,” she said. “I constantly was asking for supplies and support and help.”

She added that she was never observed or advised by her superiors while teaching and had never before been disciplined or fired at any other job.

Dina Luetgens, president of the Yuba City Unified Teachers Association, said members of the association are “extremely unhappy” with the firing and disappointed that district trustees upheld the dismissal.

“It is the teachers association's belief that she was released for providing information to parents in her role as acting as an advocate for her student's best interest,” Luetgens said Thursday.

Trustee Sharman Kobayashi said Wednesday the board stood behind its decision Tuesday night to uphold the dismissal.

Kobayashi and Superintendent Nancy Aaberg said they were prohibited by law to comment on personnel issues.

Sophomore Sarah Guanzon said Thursday she was called into Principal Don Beno's office after Bruns was fired. Guanzon had distributed fliers that read “Get Bruns Back.”

“I totally disagree with the board's decision to uphold Miss Bruns' dismissal,” Guanzon said. “Mr. Beno told me that if I did it again, I would get suspended. It kind of scared me, so I stopped, but I still talk about it and ask students how they feel about losing a really good teacher.”

Beno was unavailable for comment Thursday but said Wednesday it was “business as usual” at the school. He also could not comment on Bruns' dismissal.

“She cares,” Guanzon, 15, said of Bruns. “It's walking in and knowing that a teacher cares about you. That's why I got so attached to her.”

John Guanzon, Sarah's father, said he attended the board's Tuesday night meeting.

“Many students seem to care about Ms. Bruns, but the principal won't let them voice their opinion,” he said. “We have taught our daughter to always stand up for what she believes in, and I guess she listened to us that time.”

Paula Posner, a veteran high school teacher, said she was shocked when she heard Bruns had been fired.

“It could be a coincidence; I don't know, but I think it was because she was advocating for the kids, because the night before, she told parents she didn't have the books she needed,” Posner explained. “I'm a veteran teacher, so I have supplies - I know the ins and outs, I can teach without supplies - but new teachers need support.”

Posner said she personally has not had any problems, but feels that new and non-tenured teachers are now afraid to speak out.

“The atmosphere there is not warm; teachers are afraid, new teachers are anxious and fearful with this decision,” she said. “I'm disillusioned and reluctant. I think the district lost one of the best.”

Bruns has both a bachelor's and a master's degree in history from Sonoma State and was invited back to her previous district, Petaluma City Schools in Sonoma County, as a substitute.

While she has to sell the home she bought in Yuba City and find another full-time job, Bruns said her biggest regret is leaving behind her students.

“I love my students; that's why I teach,” she said. “That's what I miss the most now, is those kids. It breaks my heart that I'm not there for them. I didn't know they were going to respond to me so well after so short a time.”
In California, first and second-year teachers are considered to be probationary and may be fired at anytime for any reason without any justification being given.

Even so, unless the teacher formally resigns, he or she is usually entitled to his or her wages for that school year.

Unless the teacher was dismissed for insubordination or criminal behavior.

If the Yuba City school district has withheld Ms. Bruns' pay, she may very well have grounds for a lawsuit.

Guessing, I would say that District officials consulted their attorney before moving to discharge Bruns.

So, I wonder if there is more to this story than meets the eye? Or is this yet another case (which happens all-too-often in California) of a district intimidating its teachers into silence by making an "example" of one of them?

Related: More here.
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