Teachers see revenge in transfers Large-scale move considered reprisal

June 16, 1993|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

A plan that would transfer 38 county teachers to other schools next year is causing a flap among school employees, some of whom say they are being moved as punishment for being too outspoken.

Superintendent Michael E. Hickey's plan would involuntarily move the teachers -- from elementary, middle and high schools -- in what school officials believe is the largest-ever transfer in the school system. Another 460 teachers have requested transfers, some anticipating changes in school enrollment and others asking for either full- or part-time positions. Many of the voluntary requests came from teachers who wanted to work at the two new schools opening next year, according to Al Tucci, the schools' human resources supervisor.

But the involuntary moves are said to be causing anxiety.

"Teachers in the schools are fearful," said James R. Swab, president of the Howard County Education Association. "Teachers are afraid, scared to death to give their opinions."

Dr. Hickey denies that the moves are reprisals against teachers, and says they represent a creative and cheap way of instituting staff development -- moving teachers around so they can share their expertise at other locations. It is just a coincidence that some teachers who have been vocal in the past are being moved, he said.

"It's too bad teachers are fearful of change and opportunities," he said. "Change doesn't mean bad."

Since no one has given them a reason for their transfer, many think they've done something wrong, teachers say.

"I feel like I have to make excuses for my career," said Helen Gromadzki, a fourth-grade Guilford Elementary School teacher. "Why me? Why was I transferred?"

An explanation from school officials would have soothed hurt feelings of many teachers, she said. "I want the honest truth. I don't want a rose bouquet. If this is to teach us something, we're missing the lesson because we're not being told why."

Some, such as Wilde Lake High School media specialist Gerri Willis, were advocates of work-to-rule two years ago, when teachers protested not getting their raises because of budget cutbacks.

Although she is being transferred to Centennial High School to replace a media specialist whose husband is the new principal there next year, the 16-year Wilde Lake veteran feels she's being penalized.

"I feel like free speech is being endangered," she said. "It's safer not to speak on any issues."

In response to concerns about transfers of teachers and administrators -- about a dozen of them are being shuffled -- Dr. Hickey has set up an advisory committee to study how next year's moves will be handled. Issues that the committee may address include the timing as well as public notification of the moves, he said.

At last week's board meeting, Mr. Swab detailed comments from teachers who had expressed their concerns to him. Among them:

* "We got the message. There is to be no more freedom of speech in our schools. No one is to express an opinion if it differs from the principal."

* "This is a reign of terror. It's like living in a Communist state. To disagree is to be put on a list."

* "We were betrayed by Dr. Hickey. He met with us and asked us to tell him what were the problems in our school. He said, 'Trust me, there will be no reprisals.' We trusted him, and we talked to him. Today, he transferred us. The entire school is angry."

Before Dr. Hickey announced the transfer last week, "things were going so well in the school," Mr. Swab said. "People were content. There was a feeling that the human relations policy would work. There was a feeling of harmony. Now it's just the opposite."

Despite the outcry from teachers, employee transfers are going to continue, Dr. Hickey said. "People change schools from year to year, and we don't see schools falling apart," he said.

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