by Denise Civiletti
(Updated: June 11 9:29 a.m.) New York State United Teachers union members from across Suffolk County joined former charter school teachers and supporters in a line in front of the Riverhead Charter School in Calverton this afternoon, protesting what NYSUT regional director Peter Verdon called improper actions by the school administration against teachers at the school.
"The administration has created an environment of hostility and fear that is not conducive to a learning evnironment for the students," Verdon said in an interview during the rally this afternoon, where 75 to 100 people bearing signs and placards stood across the road from the school.
The union, which has accused the Riverhead Charter School of "union-busting," has filed improper labor practice charges against the school. The charges claim the administration has used intimidation, threats and firings to destabilize the relationship between the union and its members in a systematic effort to get the union at the school decertified by state labor officials. The complaints are pending before the state Public Employees Relations Board.
At least eight teachers, including the teachers union unit president, have been fired since the beginning of the current school year. The terminated teachers and the union argue that the terminations are a direct result of the employees' support of the union.
Riverhead Charter School principal Raymond Ankrum Sr. could not immediately be reached for comment, but said in a written statement last night while school officials "respect NYSUT’s right to peacefully protest," their "main focus" yesterday was "to ensure that our students, staff, and families were safe."
"We are thankful that we were able to have a successful movie night with our students and families. We had over 100 parents and students in attendance," Ankrum wrote in an email.
"Even in the midst of all of the chaos, our students and families came out in droves to support this event. We will continue to put our students and families at the forefront of our thoughts keeping our focus on our students," Ankrum wrote.
Twenty-eight charter school teachers last week signed a letter to the union objecting to the rally, which they said created an unnecessary disruption and, since it was scheduled to take place at school dismissal time, posed a potential safety hazard. A copy of the letter was sent to the media. Read it here. Twenty of those teachers sat down with RiverheadLOCAL last week to air their complaints about the union, which they say has done nothing to represent their interests. See story.
But teachers who've been terminated or who resigned their posts say the principal is behind the move to decertify the union because he does not want the teaching staff to be unionized.
Jackie Scoglio-Walsh, an eight-year veteran teacher fired in December, said in a written statement read aloud by her mother at today's rally, that she was fired two weeks after speaking out in favor of the union.
"My fellow coworkers and I were fired or forced to resign because they didn't play on Mr. Ankrum's team. These were targeted teachers, long-term staff members and union members who believed in standing up for their rights as well as the rights of the children at RCS," she wrote in the statement. "These teachers had experience, a backbone and ethics and stood up for what they believed in... Mr. Ankrum got rid of the heart and soul of this school for his own personal gain."
More than half of the RCS teachers at the start of this school year — 16 of 35 — were new hires; all the new hires had less than three years' experience and 11 of them were first-year teachers.
"We hope SED [the state education department] will look at this place and make sure things change," Verdon said, "to make sure the professionals here are treated with respect in accordance with all the applicable labor laws and rules, because we know that's what's best for children and the educational programs."