Grievances and Write-ups, Legal Issues and Resources

Question from a Valley Sub:

I wonder if members of this list have any advice about meeting with school administrators over student complaints.  I have been working long term teaching summer school.  The rotating administration for summer school informed me that some of my students came in and complained about a test I gave them.  But they aren't telling me the worst things they complained about.  Instead they have tried to get me to incriminate myself and we have been dancing around the problem during two discussions I have had with 2 rotating administrators. I asked the chapter chair to find out what it is all about.  He came back and told me that they don't want me back as a sub.  But he's not sure.  One administrator told me she is writing up a "report" on this "incident".  But I am not allowed to know what the incident is. 

Who should I contact at UTLA?  And should I talk to the principal if he wants to talk to me about anything when I leave tomorrow?

Answer from Dave Peters, Chapter Chair Central Calling Area:

Don't talk to UTLA until you have received a write-up.  At this point, there is nothing to grieve.  I would suggest you NEVER go back to that school. Once you are on their radar, they will be waiting for you to return in the future so they can write you up properly.  No one should go back to a school where they are on the write-up radar.  You don't want to verify Pogo's advice about the enemy. 

Here is what I would suggest if you meet with any more administrators about this or any other complaint: Every sub should be aware of the write-up and grievance procedure! This is the process by which we are dismissed or fired. Any principal or vice-principal can write you up for any reason imaginable. If the worst happens, you should immediately contact the union and commence the grievance procedure. This is another reason to join the union, so that you will be represented in the grievance process. Many subs fail to realize the gravity of the situation and treat the entire matter in a cavalier fashion. That's OK if you don't care about retaining your job, but if you treat this work seriously you will follow the union guidelines. LAUSD subs are fortunate to have a contract that protects them and a union that can help them when worse comes to worse.

If you receive notice of a write-up in the mail, it is too late to do anything about it at that point. But don't worry. You will win the grievance because you were not given a conference with the principal or vice-principal.

Usually, you will receive a call at your next school, or at home. DO NOT RETURN THIS CALL! If you answer the phone yourself, DO NOT DISCUSS THE MATTER WITH THE ADMINISTRATOR. Make an appointment for a personal interview. Most subs lose their grievances because they fall into the trap of trying to explain what happened on the telephone. This is exactly what the administrator wants. It saves them time and energy. They just check off the conference box and mail in the write-up, which was probably already written. The only thing you should say on the telephone would be, "IS THIS DISCIPLINARY IN NATURE?" If yes, make the appointment and INSIST that the CHAPTER CHAIR be present. The Chapter Chair is your advocate in this procedure and should do most, if not all, of the talking. If you are CERTAIN this will not lead to disciplinary action (a write-up), that is if you are positive you can trust the administrator's word, you might try to explain your way out of it. But only if you don't hang yourself in the process. Be very careful what you say, especially on the telephone. In any event it is much better to let the Chapter Chair handle it. They usually know what to do and say. You also have a witness to the conversation, which you won't have on the telephone.

If you receive an Inadequate Service Report, call UTLA and talk with your Area Representative. You have 15 days to begin the grievance process. The administrator has 10 business days to issue the Inadequate Service Report. The contract is vague about YOUR 15 days. It could be from when you received the ISR, or from when you knew about the facts of the incident (see Article V, Section 6.0 of the contract, dealing with Grievance Procedure).

Try to make an agreement with the administrator that will avoid the entire grievance system. Almost all incidents will be relatively minor in nature and will not be such that the administrator is recommending that you be fired. Similarly, they would not be such that the regular teacher would be written up for the same thing. But as subs, we are at the bottom of the totem pole. Such things as lateness, not following lesson plans (which teachers do all the time), and parent complaints are a FEW of the things that regularly lead to write-ups.

Since the write-up and grievance procedure can, and often does, take years out of your life to consummate, the best thing for you and the administrator to do is to avoid the whole thing. You can usually do this by making an agreement with the principal or vice principal NEVER to come back to that school again. This is informal in nature and eschews the entire grievance process, which is mind-numbingly complicated and time-consuming in nature. And the outcome is invariably the same. You get no joy or vindication even if you do prevail in this labyrinthine proceeding.If you are dealing with a vice principal without success, insist on seeing the principal. We can't stress enough how ultimately futile it is to put your faith in the grievance system. You need to know the process BEFORE your conference. Frequently the Chapter Chair has little knowledge of any of this, especially regarding subs. In a way, you must be your own advocate. If you can keep it on a rational level, reason will usually prevail. If it becomes personal, or emotional, you will lose. Often the administrator is ignorant of this procedure, or can be quite devious.

Here we have merely presented a few facts for your perusal. It is up to you to draw the proper conclusions. Most subs are so woefully ignorant about write-ups and grievances that they adopt the ostrich approach. We would strongly counsel otherwise.

Specifics

Recently, we heard from a sub who may soon be dismissed from service. He just got his third write-up in four years. Unfortunately (for him), he threw the first two away (as if this would solve the problem). For sure, he could have beaten one of them (and maybe both). This is NOT the recommended procedure! He may be OK since the third write-up had NO conference (not even via telephone), and arrived a month late, with improper service. He really hasn't been served properly since it was just a copy of a copy received by personnel, and the contract states that the principal has to send it to him directly by certified mail. It is amazing how many administrators think they can just send these out and get us fired in the most slipshod, haphazard manner, without a care for procedure or legalities. It shows how little respect they have for us. They would never dare to take that route with a regular teacher. So, this sub was violated on three points of procedure (time, conference, and service). But we have known subs to be fired on flimsier evidence than this.

Here is what the contract states about Inadequate Service Reports:

"Inadequate Service by Substitutes: The site administrator may, for cause, issue to a day-to-day substitute employee a notice of inadequate service. Such a notice shall, absent compelling circumstances, be issued within ten working days after the date(s) of service, with a copy to the employee (either in person or by certified mail to the employee's address of record). Prior to issuance of such a notice, the site administrator shall make a reasonable effort to contact and confer with the substitute regarding the allegations. In addition to the grievance procedure, the employee may attach a written response to the report within ten working days from date received. The written response becomes a permanent part of the record."

Do not throw the inadequate service report  away. You must grieve write-ups immediately or suffer the consequences. We have heard that the district has instituted a new policy after three of these. They can recommend that you take a classroom management inservice program in lieu of termination. We think this sounds a whole lot better than being fired.  If you receive a notice of Service Fitness Review (or a recommendation to take this management program), you are on the last rung of the ladder to extermination.

Dave Peters may be contacted at:(714) 890-1463 or cell:(714) 357-7886