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The Teachers Unions’ Newest Weapon: Helicopter Parents

A dustup between district and union officials in Massachusetts has reached a new level of absurdity

Most adults would be embarrassed if their parents showed up at their place of employment to chastise their bosses over how they were being treated at work, but apparently that’s not the case for a teachers union leader in Chelmsford Public Schools, a small district northwest of Boston.

Late last month, Jennifer Salmon, president of the Chelmsford Federation of Teachers (an affiliate of AFT), was placed on administrative leave while district officials investigated an altercation at Harrington Elementary School, where she works as a third grade teacher.

AFT might want to rethink their motto, “A Union of Professionals.”

On November 21st, Salmon asked Harrington interim principal Patricia Tobin and district Director of Student Support Services Amy Reese to meet to discuss a situation involving a first grade teacher and her student. Reese denied the request, explaining, “In your role as union president and parent at Harrington you are not entitled to student-related confidential information.” At the same time, Reese told Salmon that she would happy to meet with the first grade teacher directly to discuss the matter.

Nevertheless, Salmon and AFT field representative Eric Blanchet showed up at Harrington Elementary the next morning to confront Tobin and demand that she meet with them. When Tobin refused, Blanchet flew off-the-handle, got in her face and started screaming at her. Feeling threatened, Tobin left the room to call district Superintendent Jay Lang, who soon arrived at the school and informed Blanchet and Salmon that the police had been called.

From left: Interim Principal Patricia Tobin, AFT field representative Eric Blanchet, and Superintendent Jay Lang

According to the police report of the incident, officers arrived at Harrington Elementary to find Blanchet and Lang in the midst of a heated argument and needed to separate the two men. Harrington’s School Resource Officer subsequently told police that he saw Blanchet put his hands on Lang “2-3 times,” although Lang declined to press charges. When the reporting officer found Tobin, her “eyes were red and puffy” and she was “obviously upset.” Police eventually escorted Blanchet off the property, as well Salmon, who Lang placed on administrative leave (i.e., paid) pending an investigation.

AFT adds insult to injury and mom steps in

You might expect that the first thing AFT officials would do is apologize for Blanchet’s unhinged behavior. After all, most organizations (outside of the Mafia, Yakuza, etc.) would be appalled to learn one of their employees went on a tirade at an elementary school and got in a physical altercation with a public official. You might also expect that the second thing they would do is fire Blanchet.

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AFT hasn’t done either of these things. Instead, the union has gone on the offensive and launched a statewide national campaign to portray Salmon as a victim. According to the Lowell Sun, AFT president Randi Weingarten and AFT Massachusetts head Tom Gosnell sent an email to members calling on them to rally to Salmon’s defense. As a result, dozens of AFT members from Chelmsford and surrounding communities showed up to a School Committee meeting earlier this month to demand Salmon’s reinstatement. Things quickly got out of hand and School Committee chair Al Thomas had to ask the police to clear the board room.

AFT president Randi Weingarten and AFT Massachusetts president Tom Gosnell

Salmon was subsequently allowed to return to work on December 6th, but not before AFT filed a unfair labor practices complaint against the district with the Massachusetts Department of Labor.

Still, the union backlash isn’t over. Yesterday, Salmon’s mother, Pina Maggio, who is a teachers union vice-president (no joke) in the neighboring town of Lowell, announced she filed paperwork to recall Chelmsford School Committee member John Moses over accusations that he leaked information about her daughter’s role in the dustup at Harrington Elementary. (It also probably didn’t help that he accused fellow Committee member Barbara Skaar – godmother to one of Salmon’s children – of corruption and “working for the union” at that rowdy meeting earlier this month.) If Maggio and her supporters are successful in collecting the required signatures, the recall vote could be held as soon as April.

From left: Pina Maggio, John Moses, and Barbara Skaar

Bullying, intimidation, political retribution. These are the tactics being used by AFT’s affiliates in Massachusetts – with the full encouragement of Randi Weingarten – to bend district officials to their will. Given the facts in this case, I’d say it’s time that AFT replaced their motto, “A Union of Professionals.”


Read the police report on the incident at Harrington Elementary:

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Written by Peter Cook

Pete became involved in education reform as a 2002 Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. As a consultant, he developed teacher evaluation systems and served as a strategic advisor to school district leaders in Cleveland, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He now writes about education policy and politics and lives in New Orleans.

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