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FIRM PARTNER, COLIN M. LYNCH, ESQ., OBTAINS DISMISSAL OF TENURE CHARGES BROUGHT AGAINST NEWARK PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHERS CITING RETALIATION FOR UNION ACTIVITY BY SCHOOL ADMINISTRATION

Mr. Lynch recently obtained two separate, but related arbitration decisions issued pursuant to the TEACHNJ Act, dismissing tenure charges against two tenured teachers of the Newark Public Schools. In dismissing the tenure charges, the two arbitrators concluded that the former Principal of NPS’s Rafael Hernandez School, Natsha Pared, retaliated against the school’s NTU Building Representative, Sanyika Montague, and his colleague and fellow Union member, Jennifer Ferrara, in the conduct of their performance evaluations because their Union activity on behalf and in support of the Newark Teachers Union, Local 481.


Former RHS Principal, Natasha Pared, recommended tenure charges against NTU Building Representative, Sanyika Montague, and his colleague, Jennifer Ferrara, based upon what she alleged was “inefficient” performance by them during both the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years. The charges were approved by Superintendent Roger Leon and certified by the Board, despite the teacher’s protests that Pared was retaliating against them for the Union activity. The charges sought revocation of their tenure rights and termination of their respective employment with NPS. Both Montague and Ferrara defended against the charges contending that the observation and evaluation ratings issued to them were motivated by Pared’s hostility toward Montague as the building representative for the NTU and Ferrara’s association with and support of Montague as the representative, as well as her own Union activity in support of her colleagues. Their defenses were supported by witnesses testimony confirming that Pared claimed at faculty meetings to have listened in on Union meetings then conducted by way of video-conference; recorded video of a faculty meeting where Pared discouraged faculty from speaking to Montague and suggesting consequences for those who did; and the testimony of colleagues who, notwithstanding their tenured positions with NPS, resigned from NPS due to the toxic environment created and fostered by Pared and her fellow administrators, and the failure and refusal of NPS administration to take any action remedy it.


On September 18, 2023, Arbitrator Kinard Lang, in I/M/O Jennifer Ferrara, EDU Dkt. No. 221-8/22, dismissed the charges against Ferrara, concluding in his written Opinion and Award that the conduct of Ferrara’s observations and evaluations were both arbitrary and capricious and retaliatory.  As held by the Arbitrator Lang: 


Pared’s intrusion into Union meetings, antipathy for Montague and interference in RHS Union leadership selection, convince me Ms. Ferrara’s participation in NTU complaints tainted Administration’s ratings of her teaching performance.

 

Based on the entire record in this matter I find the District’s Ratings of Respondent violated the Provisions of TeachNJ; that they were influenced by Farrara’s Union activity, were arbitrary and capricious, and failed to adhere to prescribed evaluation processes. I find all of that materially affected Ms. Farrara’s Observations and Evaluations.

 

More recently, on November 27, 2023, Arbitrator Robert T. Simmelkjaer in I/M/O Sanyika Montague, EDU Dkt. No. 221-8/22, separately dismissed the tenure charges against Montague, likewise finding that that Pared’s hostility toward Montague’s Union activity materially affected the outcome of his evaluations. As found by Arbitrator Simmelkjaer:

 

The Arbitrator is persuaded by a preponderance of the credible evidence that the administration of the Raphael Hernandez School, particularly Principal Pared, engaged in anti-Union discriminatory conduct prohibited by the State and Federal law.  In the Arbitrator’s opinion, “the charges would not have been brought but for considerations of…Union activity, discrimination as prohibited by State or federal law.”

 

There is preponderant evidence which establishes that Principal Pared from the outset was hostile to the election of Respondent as building representative commencing with the 2020-2021 school year and continuing until efficiency charges were filed against him on July 29, 2022.

 

Both teachers were long-term veteran teachers of NPS. The charges were pursued in the face of the District’s shortage of qualified teachers and in the aftermath of an unprecedented pandemic involving remote instruction and the myriad of challenges occurring as a result. The twin decisions dismissing teacher tenure charges on the basis of Union retaliation establish a strong precedent that school administrators cannot discriminate against Union members for their Union advocacy and membership by using claims of teacher poor performance, or “inefficiency,” as a cover for their retaliatory intent.

 

As a result of the respective arbitrators’ decisions, both teachers retain their tenure and are entitled to backpay and benefits for the period both were on an unpaid suspension during the pendency of the charges. The now proven allegations of retaliation are currently the subject of federal lawsuit filed by both Montague and Ferrara against the District, its Assistant Superintendent in charge of Rafael Hernandez, Jose Fuentes, as well as Principal Natasha Pared, and her former Vice Principals, Stephanie Vargas and Kinyetta Bird, who are alleged to have conspired with Pared to violate their First Amendment rights to Freedom of Speech and Association in Montague, et. als v. Newark Public Schools, et. als, Civil Action No. 2:22-cv-00271, for which they are seeking damages for the District’s retaliatory conduct. 

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