(April 30, 2020)
Dear NEA Tiverton Union Members and other Concerned Citizens in the Tiverton School Community,
As you are most likely aware, 25-year special education Tiverton teacher Amy Mullen was recently fired from her job at the recommendation of Superintendent Peter Sanchioni.
A few days ago, Superintendent Sanchioni pushed a skewed narrative in an email to teachers, staff, and parents that we felt needed a response. After politely thanking everyone for patience “during these trying times,” he launched into his real purpose in writing: to vilify Amy Mullen and to commence her public flogging. Sanchioni offered no supporting details or relevant context for his decision to fire Mullen, who also serves as Tiverton teacher union president.
She was, said Sanchioni, uncooperative, unprofessional, and persistently “divisive and obstructive.”
Was she a poor teacher? No. Uncooperative when counseled about deficiencies? No. Unprofessional in her preparations for class? No.
No. In none of his correspondence does Sanchioni allege Amy was not a good teacher. In fact, she is regarded as a great teacher.
In what way, then, was she uncooperative or unprofessional or divisive and obstructive? What exactly did Amy Mullen do that was so wrong? What was her crime?
It was this: Amy Mullen spoke out. Unequivocally and unapologetically. In short, Amy Mullen did what Union leaders do.
Amy Mullen did what Sanchioni deems unpalatable and unforgivable: she represented her members and insisted that the Union have a place at the table. While more than willing to discuss the changes that the pandemic necessitated, Mullen - like her peer presidents throughout the state - insisted, nonetheless, that he could not simply impose what he wanted and what he contrived without input.
This is not conjecture. Sanchioni, himself, said that Amy wanted “to put an end to individual bargaining.” In other words, she wanted Sanchioni to stop doing what the law prohibits him from doing in the first place.
This behavior - speaking out on behalf of other teachers - is what Sanchioni refers to as a “pattern of being divisive and obstructive.” This was her crime.
She was for Tiverton teachers what labor is for all workers: A voice.
She did not try to obstruct distance learning. She did not seek to thwart the education of the students she loves. Keenly aware of the unique problems distance learning posed to students, to families, to teachers, she sought to ensure its effective delivery; to guarantee that the stresses it imposes on both the learner and the teacher were not excessive and leading to burnout for either; to assure that the media through which instruction passed be effective and democratic; and that no one was left out.
This brazen behavior was too much for Sanchioni, so he suspended her. And to leave no doubt about his complete authority, he told her (through his attorney) that she could not speak to any other teacher or staff person. About anything. Thereafter, at his urging, the school committee terminated her employment.
Thus, with one directive Sanchioni managed to offend both the U.S. Constitution and Amy’s right as a Union member to seek the assistance of her Union (R.I.G.L. §28-7-1 et seq.)
The problem is not Amy Mullen. After 25 years as a teacher in Tiverton and twenty as Union president she did not suddenly change. Despite the challenges over the years, she always maintained a good relationship with the Administration.
Witness, in her current troubles, Bill Rearick, her former Superintendent, who posted on her Facebook page, “Hang in there!” He gets it.
For the good of her members, Amy Mullen has not slackened her advocacy. In that laudable commitment she remains unchanged.
But unfortunately, in his peculiar bent, the Superintendent, likewise remains unchanged. Unenlightened by experience, suppressing criticism is, with Sanchioni, a habitual flaw:
- Sanchioni’s efforts to quash criticism started with his previous employment as Superintendent in Natick, Massachusetts. A suit, prompted by Sanchioni’s repeated efforts to silence a grieving mother, resulted in more than $240,000 in legal fees paid by the Town. (see first and second links below)
- During one six-month period of Sanchioni’s tenure in 2018, the Natick School Committee was found to have violated the Open Meetings law more than 200 times. (see third link below)
- Last year, Sanchioni issued a gag order similar to the one he issued this year, forcing the Union to file a charge with the R.I. State Labor Relations Board, who, in turn, issued a complaint.
- This year, the Union, on Amy’s behalf, sought redress in Federal Court. And following a brief hearing, the Court saw it our way – forcing Sanchioni to rescind his gag order.
The problem is not Amy Mullen. The problem is that Tiverton has inherited a bully who was a bully whence he came. That is not a matter of conjecture either. It is a matter of public record.
|Executive Director, NEARI
“Of the $240,000 in legal fees, $170,000 were for complaints by Spaulding to the Department of Education; civil complaints against former Superintendent Peter Sanchioni, Wilson Middle School Principal Teresa Carney, the town of Natick and the School Committee; and, a small claims complaint against Carney and Mistrot when she served on the School Committee.”