We applaud the courage of Plumas County teachers to step forward and speak truth to power at last week’s school board meeting. The Plumas County Teachers Association said publicly what many teachers and staff members have been telling us privately for several years now: they work in “a climate of intimidation and fear of retaliation.” The statement was part of PCTA’s no-confidence vote in Superintendent Glenn Harris.
Since Harris took the helm at Plumas Unified School District and Plumas County Office of Education there have been a number of issues and incidents that we have wanted to cover, but we have been stymied because no one wanted to go on the record, citing their fear of retaliation from Harris.
Teachers and staff have told us they work “under a reign of terror” and that intimidation is a “daily occurrence.” Members of 7-11 committees say teachers have told them they fear for their jobs if they speak out. It’s one thing for teachers to be worried about getting laid off because of budget cuts. It’s another not to trust those in charge of the process.
Here at the newspaper red flags went up almost immediately after Harris assumed his posts. Sources who had talked to us freely before clammed up. They told us they couldn’t talk to us “without Glenn’s permission.” (For the record, public employees have a right to speak to the press.) If we asked for a document, we were told, “I have to get Glenn’s OK.” We weren’t asking these folks to be a Deep Throat for us; our requests were par-for-the-course, day-in day-out kinds of things.
So we began to look into Harris’ past and to call people who worked with or for him in his previous positions. Even among those who had not had to work with him for years, fear was pervasive. One woman told us she had “put him in the closet and closed the door.”
Given the climate of fear, the timing of the district’s faculty layoff recommendations — now up to 32.5 full-time equivalents — seems curious. Like its facilities recommendations, the layoff numbers came prematurely: pink slips don’t have to go out until March 15. But the district made its layoff recommendations in early January, just as the public 7-11 process was getting under way. The school board was set to vote on the layoffs at last week’s meeting but wisely tabled the vote until its special meeting Feb. 22. Although Harris professes that he just wants to give teachers as much notice as possible, the early announcement seemed designed to send teachers into a panic and intimidate them from participating in the 7-11 process.
In such an atmosphere, it’s obvious, school closures and consolidations cannot be discussed openly among faculty and staff. How can a community come to a clear understanding of the district’s situation, much less a course of action, if a significant portion of that community has been silenced by threats of retribution?
We hope the board recognizes the potential liability the no-confidence vote bodes. If that many teachers say they work in fear, how long will it be before the district is hit with multiple hostile-work-environment lawsuits, or perhaps one class-action type suit? If the district’s financial situation is as woeful as the administration says it is, PUSD can ill afford such tactics from its superintendent.