Muzzle Alert: Capital HR Director and Union President Put On Radio Silence, A Very Clever Veiled Threat, & When A Termination Is Not A Termination

WDEL followed up on their story about the Capital School District and Dover High School today. It piggybacked off the article I put up a week ago which mainly dealt with the Capital Educators Association’s role in the Covid/ADA accommodations debacle. In the original article from WDEL there were extensive quotes from Capital’s Human Resources Director Mary Cooke and the CEA Union President, Lisa Whiteman. For the new article, instead of Cooke, Interim Capital Superintendent Dr. Sylvia Henderson was given the microphone. As well, Whiteman “declined comment” and instead free reign was given to the Capital UniServ Director Mike Hoffman who is employed by the Delaware State Education Association (DSEA).

Also in her letter to CEA members, Whiteman wrote: “Please know CEA had no prior knowledge of the issues brought forth in the article.”

However, Whiteman’s email was also apparently found not to be completely true. 

The article referenced the exact same emails and the letter from Whiteman in response to the original WDEL article that I posted last week. It shows Whiteman having full knowledge of the ADA accommodation issue.

The article also has many quotes from Dr. Henderson:

Most educators are thrilled to be able to return safely to their profession.

Are they Dr. Henderson? With Covid raging across Delaware and schools basically being told to open by Governor Carney, I don’t know of all these thrilled educators. Are they truly safe? Because everyday I get the phone calls from Capital about the teachers, staff members, and students that tested positive for Covid. While the ones I’ve received have been about the elementary and middle schools is this district saying there have been NO positive cases of Covid at Dover High School in the past couple of weeks? Ever since the WDEL article came out?

Dr. Henderson addressed the issue of termination alleged in the original WDEL article:

It is misleading to state that an employee’s contract being paid off means that they have been ‘terminated.’  Rather, it refers to the process by which an employee’s salary is balanced to reflect actual days worked on their 10 month contract when their salary is spread over 12 months. No employee has been terminated as such action would require board of education approval.”

So instead they are temporarily paying out a contract for the rest of the year and then what? The educator just comes back and starts anew when their contract renews? Is that in the collective bargaining agreement with the CEA? This would mean that Capital could pay out the rest of a contract but that isn’t a termination? In what world does this even happen? When someone is told their benefits will discontinue and they will be paid out on their contract up to their next paycheck how is that not a termination? If this is how it is written in the agreement between CEA members and the district it might be time for an extensive re-write of that agreement! Cause it smells to me like a termination that isn’t labeled as a termination. How does an employee request an accommodation, get denied, emails the board for a leave of absence, and then gets an email stating their contract is being paid out until the next paycheck and their benefits will run out? Did the Board even get a chance to review the situation? Was the leave of absence accepted or denied? Or did Cooke just shoot out the email? Is this a fancy way of terminating an educator without board approval?

Hoffman gave a quote about the teacher that was… I’m going to go with terminated:

“You’re not an employee of the district,” continued Hoffman. “It doesn’t mean you can’t come back, but you’re not an employee of the district at that time.

So if you aren’t an employee and the district ended employment how is that not a termination? Is there a guarantee you can come back?

Dr. Henderson responded to this issue with the following:

“[The HR director] confers with the employee’s human resource specialist and other administrators, as necessary, to determine whether the requested accommodation is reasonable and would not be an undue hardship, or whether other accommodations can meet the employee’s needs.”

Notice how she gives a standard protocol without addressing the actual situation? The key words in her statement are “as necessary” and “reasonable“. Necessary for who? What is an “undue hardship“? I assume that would be an undue hardship for the school, as in, we don’t have enough teachers. So yeah, let’s have someone with a medically documented condition have to work in that situation. What Henderson did not answer is how many times Cooke has unilaterally made the decision to accept or deny ADA accommodations without consultation with others in the district. Cooke has no license in medicine whatsoever. She is not a doctor. In what world is it ok for her to judge what is reasonable when it comes to the health of an employee?

It appears the district and DSEA would not allow HR Director Cooke and CEA President Whiteman to speak to WDEL about the issues. I find this to be very alarming since they were the primary sources from the district and the union:

WDEL requested an interview with Whiteman to clarify the instances that she found “not to be completely true” and the details of the investigation. She declined the request and deferred to a representative from the Delaware State Education Association (DSEA).

Capital School District Interim Superintendent Dr. Sylvia Henderson issued the following response to WDEL after the story’s publication.

Furthermore it appears DSEA did not want the local union President to speak at all and instead opted to have their own employee speak to WDEL:

Hoffman, the DSEA representative for several school districts including Capital, did speak with WDEL about the reasonable accommodation process in an effort to explain its complexity.

If Whiteman and Cooke did everything right, according to Hoffman and Henderson, why wouldn’t they have them respond directly to WDEL? Why would they not want to defend themselves in the face of such controversy? I firmly believe they were told NOT to speak to anyone. They got muzzled by DSEA and Henderson.

And then there were these parts, the first by Hoffman and the second by Henderson:

“If they’re willing to put their name out there, then we can have a more specific conversation, but if they’re not I can’t go into any deeper, and I have emails also,” said Hoffman.

We invite the anonymous sources to identify themselves publicly so that the entire story can be told.

If you are an anonymous source, given what is going on in the Capital School District, the LAST thing I would do is take up Henderson on her offer. There is a reason they are anonymous and that is because they are afraid of what might happen. Even if they left the district they could be looking for jobs in other districts. Delaware is a small state and word gets around fast. I’m not sure what Hoffman meant by “and I have emails also”. Is he saying that should folks come forward he has proof to deny their allegations? Or is he saying he will forward those emails to the district once those people come forward? Both seem like veiled threats to me.

I’ve been blogging about Delaware education for almost seven years. In that time I have spoken with hundreds, if not thousands, of educators. I’ve found educators fit into four categories:

There are those who will do anything to suck up to building and district administrators. They are ass-kissers. They are either born that way or have a strong desire to move up past the educator role and into a leadership or district position. These are the types who will testify at an education committee hearing on behalf of the Delaware Department of Education singing the praises of standardized testing or teacher evaluations that are horrible. I don’t get along well with these kind of teachers at all. These are the ones who will comment on social media and tell me I am wrong and I have no idea what I’m talking about. They will defend THE DISTRICT and not their fellow educators. They will often get their friends to do their bidding on social media as well. For what it’s worth, I find these educators to be traitors to their profession. They don’t like me and I don’t like them. In my opinion, for the purposes of this post, Lisa Whiteman fits into this category. And if some folks don’t like that they can kiss my ass.

There are those who will speak out, even at the detriment of their own job. They don’t just look out for students but also their fellow educators as well. They will give public comment when they see an injustice. They will go against the grain to do what is right. These are my favorite kind of educators. It is also why, from the very onset of this blog, I had a close affinity with the educators in the Christina School District. They speak up and aren’t afraid to. Leann Ferguson in the Capital School District is this type of educator. She is putting it all on the line. She is thorough and knows her stuff.

There are those who just want to do their job. You never hear from them. They do their thing and don’t stick their neck out for anything. I don’t hear from these educators because they are just educating students. They don’t bother anyone and no one bothers them.

Finally, and this is the bulk of educators in Delaware, there are the teachers who are very concerned about what is going on in education but are afraid to speak out publicly. They have a valid fear of retaliation. They have seen it happen to their colleagues time and time again. I hear from these educators often. The most common phrase when I hear from them is “Please don’t use my name.” They give me information which I try to follow up on or investigate. Sometimes it never comes across this blog. Other times it does depending on the situation and the severity of it. They want to do what they do best, educate students. They also don’t want to get fired and they are deathly afraid of that happening. They know if I go public with their name they will face retaliatory action. I have seen it happen. But they also want truths to come out. Sometimes I can’t do anything with what they tell me because it would lead directly back to them as the source. And I know what will happen. Other times I can. I will always listen and do what I can for educators in these situations.

I am not saying every district administrator is a kiss-ass educator that rose to a higher position. There are good district folks out there and very good principals. And there are those who toggle back and forth between the above categories I put educators into. There are those who might hold an elevated role in their local education association who aren’t afraid to speak out but others in the same role who hold the role of district kiss-ass. Educators know the difference between the two. Everyone can see a kiss-ass a mile away.

In the middle of all this is the role of the teachers union. They have their purpose but it seems like their role becomes very cloudy at times. For some folks out there it is sacrilegious to speak out against any union in any way. But when the role of a union rep is put lower than a need to kiss-ass I will always write about that if I find proof. Whiteman fits that category. Hoffman seems to be making sure the union looks as good as possible given the confines of this situation. Time will tell if he is speaking all truths in this matter.

District administrators will ALWAYS try to make a district look as great as possible. They will often do this to the detriment of transparency. I’ve been to school board meetings where all administrators do is talk about how great things are in their district. They don’t talk about the bad things. We all know schools and districts have both occur, good and bad. To pretend otherwise is a disservice to the neighborhoods and communities they live in. We don’t hear talk about the extreme violence in some of our schools. We don’t hear about the gang violence that comes into school halls. We don’t hear about the atrocity called the Smarter Balanced Assessment. We need to. We need more educators to speak up and more district administrators fighting for the needs of students and educators.

As for the Capital School District, they need some major fixing before this mess is over. I have confidence this story isn’t over yet and more will come out. It isn’t a question of if, but when.

When a lie starts dancing, Oh boy, it sure can run halfway around the world before the truth can get its trousers on.” David Gray, Skellig

2 thoughts on “Muzzle Alert: Capital HR Director and Union President Put On Radio Silence, A Very Clever Veiled Threat, & When A Termination Is Not A Termination

  1. Man I wonder what educator Category I fit into… I do agree with work needing to be done. Capital has major communication issues at all levels. I will say that I have had my salary paid off before when I had a kid some 14 years ago. I took my than 6 weeks leave. They paid out my salary and I used short term disability for insurance. Then when I came back, I got whatever salary I had left divided up into how many pays were left in the year. That is what Delaware did before the law changed for maternity leave. Taking leave or sabbatical is similar…. Again, I agree communication needs work in Capital. Thinking about running for union rep at DHS… Love your articles!


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