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Monona Grove School Board rescinds, apologizes for vote that teachers said threatened job security

Retired teacher Thomas Howell speaks at the Monona Grove School Board meeting Wednesday.

“I apologize,” Monona Grove’s School Board members said, one by one. Job security returned to educators in the district after recent revisions to the employee handbook were rescinded in a unanimous vote at Wednesday’s school board meeting.

On Aug. 9, the Monona Grove School Board voted in favor of multiple revisions to the employee handbook. The change in language from the revisions caused a stir with educators as job security became a worry. Among the changes were the removal of the distinction between probationary and non-probationary teachers, meaning all teachers could be subject to non-renewal of their contracts for any reason. The change made teachers with, for example, 20 years of service in Monona Grove School District no different than a teacher in their very first position. Post-probationary teachers would no longer be allotted the ability to improve to avoid being fired in the now-rescinded revision.

Fear over job security, and their ability to meet student educational needs, brought Monona Grove educators to protest Aug. 29 — days before the school year started.

Educators also came to Wednesday’s school board meeting to contest the changes. A packed, overflowing room with educators dressed in red came to speak on the negative consequences that the changes brought for them and their jobs.

“I’m here tonight to ask you to rescind your vote from your board meeting that eliminated language from the teacher handbook regarding probationary teachers,“ orchestra teacher Carl Davick said. “And I asked this tonight because of… the feeling of fear that staff voices will be silenced as a result of striking out the language proposed for probationary teachers. Teachers will be less inclined to voice their professional opinions on what they feel is best for students.”

Like Davick, each speaker came to express their concern about the safety of their jobs and ability to voice their opinions on the needs of the students they teach. With the change in the handbook, experienced teachers would have been at the exact same risk of losing their jobs for “mistakes,” as Monona Grove High School Social Studies teacher Jeremy Wallace put it.

Examples of a mistake, Wallace said, could be something such as moving away from the set curriculum to supplement the interests of students at the time.

“If you don’t have — we thankfully have very good support in our own building at the highs school — but if you don’t have the support by your administrator… that creates a situation where teachers are much less likely to advocate for students and put themselves in those situations even though it’s in the best interest of the students,” Wallace said.

“I think back to my last semester when I had two young women come up to me and tell me that ‘I want to learn more about my Latinx heritage,’” Monona Grove High School Social Studies teacher Brian Jefferson added to Wallace’s remarks. “That’s something that’s become increasingly under fire and knowing that those protections aren’t in place, it really kind of gives me pause. What can I teach even though it’s real history?”

After herding from a number of educators, school board members apologized for approving the revision, and voted unambiguously to rescind it. Additional sections  that were affected by the revisions will be voted on later after a mistake on the agenda for last night’s meeting only allowed for the vote to rescind the section on probationary periods. The additional revised sections outlined due process for termination and discipline for work stoppages, and will be considered at a future meeting.