Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Court of Public Opinion

The Howard County Schools are well known for educational excellence. They enjoy a respected place on our community. The school system wants parents to know that they hire the best teachers, and that we can entrust our children to these highly trained, carefully selected education professionals. It's just one big, happy family.

Except when it isn't. When negotiations between HCEA, the Teacher's Union, and HCPSS aren't going well, that whole happy family thing goes right out the window. The Superintendent is using the bully pulpit of the hcpss website --and even reaching out to the Baltimore Sun--to cast doubt into parents' minds about the motivations of those very same teachers. In fact, now even a retired Superintendent has been brought on board to make teachers look bad.

If you follow HCEA on Facebook, you will have seen that their goals have remained consistent throughout the negotiating process. You will also be able to clearly see that neither public statement from hcpss addresses these goals in any meaningful way. The school system wants you to think that is about money, and selfishness.

Considering how often parents go to the school website, and how many follow the school system on Facebook, theirs may be the only message that many parents get. I'm pretty sure hcpss knows this. They are trying to undermine the teachers' demands by defeating them in the court of public opinion.

I guess they don't want you to know that HCEA is negotiating for:

  • Increasing planning time, and time to collaborate among paraeducators & teachers to help members prepare quality instruction.
  • Giving access to technology for all school employees to let support professionals respond to work issues in a timely manner.
  • Adequate staffing for speech pathologists and related service providers, to help them provide quality special education services, and take sick time when they need to.

In addition, HCEA invites parents and the greater community to their website to learn more. That doesn't look like selfishness or a lack of transparency to me.

On the other hand, statements from the school system omit major points (like the ones above) and misrepresent others (how much money, who will get it, and when). All in all, they seem to be using their high visibility in the community to influence negotiations in their favor. And they are doing it by discrediting our teachers.

So far we've talked about "the court of public opinion", "one big, happy family", and "the bully pulpit". Here's one more: "cutting off your nose to spite your face".

Winning is apparently so important to hcpss that they are willing to chip away at the trust and positive relationships that parents have with teachers. What happens when the negotiations are over? What will the long-term effects be?

If parents are convinced that teachers are not to be trusted, then the entire school system loses credibility. You can't turn around and say in a few months, "We honor our world-class teachers" after you went to such extraordinary lengths to say that you don't. What happens then?

I'm deeply disappointed to witness this trend.

When parents stood up for music in our schools, the school system released a statement about rumor-mongering, attempting to destroy their credibility. Now that teachers are standing up for fair working conditions, the school system is releasing public statements painting them in a bad light.

How much would it cost to treat parents and teachers with respect?



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