Griffith teachers sue district, claim veteran teachers being forced out
BY TERESA AUCH SCHULTZ email@example.com February 5, 2014 4:52PM
Updated: March 7, 2014 1:43PM
The Griffith Federation of Teachers is suing the school district, claiming it’s trying to force out veteran teachers for younger, less-experienced ones who cost less.
An attorney for the union, Larry Stassin, said the problems cited in the suit are part of bigger issues facing Griffith Community Schools, which he said are in “a state of turmoil.”
No representative for the school district could be reached for comment; snow forced the district to cancel classes on Wednesday.
According to the lawsuit filed by the union last week in Lake County Circuit Court, the school district has targeted six teachers — all women, all older than 40 — since 2012, trying to harass them into leaving.
The harassment has included moving some of the teachers to positions they weren’t familiar with or denying their requests for certain placements. Each time, the lawsuit says, the district would instead fill the desired spot with a younger teacher who was less experienced and was paid less.
One physical education teacher, Deb Chmiel, was suspended for two days and later assigned a workload that left her only 30 minutes for lunch and one 15 minute break. That’s compared to two other male physical education teachers who worked two hours a day less than she did, according to the suit.
The school suspended Chmiel in August after she refused to let a student participate in gym class because the student had not followed school procedures after a medical issue kept her out.
The union’s president, Tracy Whitman, was also targeted, according to the suit; that included the administration questioning her students about her teaching and moving high-performing students out of her classroom so that her overall scores would suffer, the lawsuit claims.
The lawsuit claims the school took these actions against Whitman, Chmiel and the other plaintiffs — Kathy Planer, Carol Hacker, Margaret Johnson and Ingrid Schimnoski — to get them to retire or quit.
The suit says most of the discrimination started after the district tried to obtain a grant from the Indiana Department of Education tied to the state’s then-new teacher evaluation system, called the RISE Program. Part of the grant approval required the union to agree to invalidate its contract with the district because the contract did not allow for the new evaluation system. The union would not agree to that, but the district applied for the grant anyway and had to return the grant money after the union told the state they had never agreed to the provision, Stassis said.