Published: Aug 16, 2012 07:02 PM
Modified: Sep 18, 2012 11:44 AM
CHAPEL HILL - Chapel Hill High School teachers Anne Thompson and Bert Wartski will go to court Friday to postpone their involuntary transfers to other schools until a judge rules on their appeals.
The transfers by Superintendent Thomas Forcella have kicked up a storm. Superintendent Thomas Forcella says he made the transfers to improve school climate, and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board has upheld his decision.
Many students and parents, however, support the teachers’ appeals. The teachers say they are being punished for speaking out, including seeking the reassignment of one administrator and removal of another.
“Ms. Thompson contends that the only activities she has ever engaged in that could be construed as negative have been instances in which she and other faculty have been critical of the administration, most specifically the … past principal and certain other administrators,” the teachers’ attorney, Trey Tanner, wrote in an Aug. 7 motion.
Tanner’s filings name Forcella and school board Chairwoman Mia Day Burroughs as respondents.
Thompson and Wartski have advocated separately for and against various academic policies, which has put them at odds with school administrators. Thompson’s petition states that she signed a June 2011 letter along with 10 other faculty members of the English department requesting that an assistant vice principal be reassigned to a different department within the school.
Both teachers participated in a letter to Forcella stating unhappiness with then principal Jesse Dingle that Wartski presented to Forcella in February 2012. According to the court petitions, the online document was signed by 40 Chapel Hill High School teachers.
Forcella said the teachers are not being punished and that transfers are common in other places he has worked.
“The transfers were not in any way a result of teachers speaking their mind about policies,” he said last week. “It was strictly done to improve the existing culture at Chapel Hill High School.”
Wartski had several meetings with the superintendent, at which they discussed issues at the school, such as low faculty morale. An anonymous survey of faculty members in early 2012 exposed tensions between the faculty and the school administration, and Wartski’s petition describes a May 2012 meeting at which Forcella announced that he was contemplating transferring certain teachers from Chapel Hill High School, “aimed at what he referred to as a ‘toxic atmosphere’ or ‘negative culture’…”
The petitions cite North Carolina General Statute 115C-45(c), which gives the Superior Court power to review the school board’s ruling on an administrative decision that “specifically provides for a right of appeal to the local board of education and for which there is no other statutory appeal procedure.”
“The transfer is being made in contravention of School Board policy, upon unlawful procedure … is unsupported by substantial evidence in view of the entire record as submitted, or is arbitrary and capricious,” separate motions requesting the temporary stay of Wartski’s and Thompson’s transfers state.
A judge’s ruling after the 2 p.m. Friday hearing in Hillsborough will determine whether Wartski and Thompson begin the school year at Chapel Hill High School, where they have taught a combined 45 years, or at other high schools where the superintendent’s office has transferred them. The teachers have asked supporters to gather at the courthouse at 1:30 p.m.
Teachers are required to be present on or before Aug. 20 in order prepare for the oncoming school year.