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Substitute Teacher's Story

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The retaliation I experienced from the Superintendent, Dr. Chris Bauman, and from those colluding with him in the Human Resources Department – including its supervisor, Assistant Superintendent Lori Wilson – was, like many other employees’ experiences after an occasion of outspokenness, subtle yet undeniable.

 Unlike other employees’ experiences, though, my situation was more harmful to the teachers and students in the district than actually damaging to me. I am currently the “face” of the parent group called Ozark, MO School District Awareness (OMSDA.) We began quite innocently by merely asking questions to try to find a way to contribute information to resolve the months-long unjust suspension which had removed our kids’ beloved mentor and highly-respected senior instructor of the nationally-renowned, multi-year, multi-titled national championship JROTC teams which he had cultivated at Ozark High School.

For three months, we worked our way through the process of contacting administrators as described in the Board Policy for handling citizen concerns, being stonewalled at every turn, until a large group of students and parents finally attended the February 24, 2022 Board meeting, prepared to speak to the board about the broken policies and violations of state laws which the administration seemed intent on committing. We were not allowed to present any information at all.

"Unlike other employees’ experiences, though, my situation was more harmful to the teachers and students in the district than actually damaging to me."

Apart from the rude and unprofessional way in which the Superintendent ran the meeting, the most disappointing part of that whole fiasco was that we parents had trusted that the school board would provide recourse for the terrible abuse of authority being practiced against this teacher – and, worst of all, we had reassured our children (JROTC cadets who were distraught at their instructor being gone for such an unreasonably long time) several times that, if we followed the process for handling a problem, we would surely find a successful way to work out the problems with the board and the administration and the teacher. Our students witnessed grown adults breaking the rules, bullying other adults – employees and parents – then, when the students practiced what is preached at school and tried to “see something, say something”, they watched as the bully was enabled to continue that malfeasance. The parents resolved that night after the February board meeting to continue speaking out and fighting against that administrative tyranny which acts as if it is above the literal law and the school district policy. Those parents formed a group with the goal of bringing awareness and eventually accountability to the District in an effort to protect our schools and the teachers’ abilities to work in a harassment-free environment where they could focus on nurturing and developing students’ strengths and love for education. I became the unlikely spokesperson for that group because as a teacher I was familiar with school systems and had already been researching board policies and state laws, and, mostly, because I had the least to lose in the very likely case of retaliation: my youngest child was graduating and, importantly, I had no relatives who worked for the school or the closely-allied large entity who served as the District’s health and insurance provider and for whom relatives of several school administrators and board members were employed as high-ranking executives.

"Our students witnessed grown adults breaking the rules, bullying other adults – employees and parents – then, when the students practiced what is preached at school and tried to “see something, say something”, they watched as the bully was enabled to continue that malfeasance."

In addition to parenting two boys in the phenomenally successful JROTC program and being very involved over the years in supporting their teams’ many activities through the Booster Club, I also teach math at a local college. In the fall of 2021, my teaching schedule was such that my Fridays could be made available to help fill the growing need advertised by the District for substitute teachers, so in November I applied with the District, obtained a Substitute Certificate from DESE, and was quickly approved. I completed the required training videos and happened to begin subbing around the same time as the JROTC instructor’s suspension started in December, but I never thought there would be a connection between those two events. Subbing for the remaining 6 months of the school year was fulfilling and rewarding, especially the time I filled in for a missing math teacher and surprised the students that the substitute could actually help them with their homework. It was also fun to sometimes encounter my son or his friends during the school day. During those six months that I subbed in the District, there was not a time that anyone ever had to correct me nor, to my knowledge, did I ever violate any policies or procedures. I have a great relationship with the staff whom I see in the schools where I've subbed. They trust me to go wherever needed in the building, generally appreciate my helpfulness, and they especially liked it that, when I was at the high school on Fridays, apparently unlike most subs, I didn't mind staying after school was released to help supervise the Junior High students waiting on their parents who were faculty members away from their rooms in staff meetings. Now, as much as I enjoyed the year and believe that I was a great employee, it might be the case that I violated some policy and didn't realize it. However, if that happened, I was never told of that violation, nor did it stop the District from inviting me back to sub at the beginning of this school year.

The parent group continued working throughout the remainder of the school year and through the summer to bring awareness of the need for change in the administration and the now-obviously also complicit school board. Again, I didn’t connect my role as a substitute with any of my important civic efforts to defend the rights of District employees. I now believe it was because of this outspokenness, however, that I was first passively then explicitly denied a return to a role as a much-needed substitute teacher for the District.

" I now believe it was because of this outspokenness, however, that I was first passively then explicitly denied a return to a role as a much-needed substitute teacher for the District."

Near the beginning of the school year, the District emailed out a bulk announcement reminding returning subs to log in to their sub accounts to renew our accounts for accurate payment for work and for watching the required training videos. I received the reminder email but was unable to access my account. The error message read that my account was “inactive.” When I contacted the sender of the email on a Thursday, she replied that the contact person for that area was out of town that week but would be back in town the following week and would get back with me then. I waited until the next week had nearly passed, naively excusing the lack of reply as I certainly realize how hectic it can be to catch up on work emails after being gone, then I wrote them both to check on my access to my sub account. Two more weeks went by without a reply. I again wrote both ladies to attempt to find resolution to the problem. For the third time, I received no answer. I was a beginning to be a little suspicious about the reason I wasn’t getting a reply nor gaining access to my sub account, especially since the District was often advertising the very desperate need for substitutes, but my teaching load was picking up, and I wouldn’t have been able to do much subbing right then anyway, so I did not follow up a fourth time. I did mention the absence of a response to a school board member after a board meeting one evening during a conversation where something relevant was mentioned. He intimated that he would check into it and see what was causing the problem and told me that if I didn’t hear anything back in response to my further requests, then I should check with new Assistant Superintendent Lori Wilson who now supervised that area.

In December, as my classes finished, I wrote Lori Wilson to request her help with both receiving a response and gaining access. Coincidentally, at the school board meeting the night before, the board had just approved an increase in compensation for substitutes as the District had appealed for a solution, describing its desperate need for more subs. A board member clarified by questioning the number of unfilled vacancies each day in the district, and I recall that it was a very high number, over 80, I believe. The district also continued advertising in its regular communications the dire need for substitute teachers, along with creating and mailing district households a special postcard inviting applications for substitute teaching. You can imagine, then, my complete shock and surprise finally to receive a reply from Dr. Wilson the following week that the District “will not be needing my services” as a substitute. I could not imagine a legitimate reason for this reply, so I responded by sharing my awareness of the District’s great need for subs in general and my specific qualifications (a teaching degree with certification grades 7-12, a Master’s degree in mathematics, 20+ years experience teaching at the secondary and post-secondary level, a current Substitute certificate, and the previous year’s solidly positive experience with subbing in the Ozark district.) I then requested clarification of what qualification required by the school district or state was lacking.

" You can imagine, then, my complete shock and surprise finally to receive a reply from Dr. Wilson the following week that the District “will not be needing my services” as a substitute."

Assistant Superintendent Wilson responded with an unsubstantiated, vague remark about a “previous refusal to comply with District policy, procedures, and administration directions.” Since that has never occurred nor have I ever been notified of any such violation, and since she has refused to respond to my request for specific details about any alleged incident she might be referencing, the only conclusion left is that I am experiencing what far too many other District employees have discovered is the consequence for speaking up about a problem or concern in the District: blatant retaliation resulting eventually in the loss of employment. Unlike those other employees, I am not dependent on this income for my family’s livelihood; I was merely trying to help fill the District’s desperate need.

Granted, if the District had the luxury of choosing from a large pool of applicants to use for substitutes, it would be completely understandable that a person involved with a group highlighting the need for accountability and reform of dishonest and tyrannical administrators would be rejected from being chosen as a sub. But, given the fact that the District is spending money on mailers, advertising in newsletters, and petitioning the Board of Directors to raise compensation for substitute teachers, clearly "retaliation for asking questions" cannot serve as sufficient reason to reject a qualified, willing, and compliant substitute teacher.

Of note, one former teacher told me that this situation was a perfect illustration of why so many District employees are unwilling to speak up about the harassment, intimidation, and even retaliation which they have themselves experienced -- they cannot afford to lose their jobs.

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