The state Department of Labor Relations (DLR) has found “probable cause” to believe that the Holyoke Public Schools illegally fired Holyoke Teachers Association (HTA) President Gus Morales because of his activism as a union leader.
The DLR will hold a hearing on the complaint, which stems from a charge filed by the HTA on June 25. The DLR complaint is similar to a grand jury indictment; the upcoming hearing will have many of the characteristics of a trial, with witnesses and cross-examination.
“Because I speak out against policies that I see as bad for our students and bad for our educators, I have been targeted for two straight years,” said Morales, whose employment contract with the Holyoke Public Schools was not renewed at the end of the school year.
Morales, who does not have professional teaching status, was similarly dismissed at the end the 2013-14 school year after his election to lead the HTA. Then, as now, the DLR issued a complaint that found reason to believe that Morales was illegally terminated for his union activism.
In that case, following the initial DLR complaint, the Holyoke Public Schools agreed with the HTA and Morales to return Morales to the classroom in November. Shortly thereafter, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced a planned review of Holyoke Public Schools and its intentions to recommend that the district be placed under the control of a state-appointed receiver.
Morales and the HTA were vocal opponents of the takeover, which was imposed in April despite widespread objections from the community and several of its elected leaders.
“It is an outrage that an educator and leader such as Gus Morales, who has spoken out for the students and the Holyoke community, is being targeted for dismissal,” said MTA President Barbara Madeloni. “The MTA will not tolerate attacks on educators, especially when the attack is meant to cause fear among those who challenge the deeply flawed accountability system used to punish educators, students and communities. Gus has the courage to address the real issues affecting Holyoke — such as economic and racial injustice — and the MTA supports him and the HTA in holding the state accountable for providing resources that the community can use to combat these problems.”
Throughout stakeholder meetings to craft a “turnaround” plan for Holyoke Public Schools, Morales and others from the HTA raised concerns about the influence of standardized tests, the need to provide social services to students living in poverty, inadequate programs for students on special education plans, the lack of ethnic diversity in the teaching ranks and other issues that they felt that the receiver needs to address.
“Before I became vocal about the problems I see in our schools, I received very good evaluations. But once I spoke out, my evaluations turned negative,” Morales said. “The real story here is how the current evaluation process lets administrators target and eventually terminate educators who challenge their authority.”