Capital Union President Lied To Every Single Teacher In Capital School District

For the past several months, teachers at Dover High School have been grappling with Covid, remote learning, hybrid learning and the district itself. But it appears their greatest enemy might just be their own union that is supposed to protect teachers.

This past Monday, WDEL had an explosive article about teachers at Dover High School. The news shocked Delaware teachers up and down the state but it didn’t come as a surprise to many. For Leann Ferguson, her actions in reporting the incidents to WDEL were met with mixed results. Many teachers hailed her as a hero for finally reporting things many would not. Others branded her a traitor to the district and Dover High School.

The article dealt mainly with accommodations teachers could get through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and how the district responded to those requests. According to the article and Ferguson, one teacher was fired after they were denied an ADA request to the district. The teacher wrote to the board and was summarily terminated the next day with an email from the district indicating their contract was ending before the end of the year.

One teacher, who also requested anonymity for fear of retribution, confirmed to WDEL they initially requested reasonable ADA accommodations to teach remotely. When that request was refused the teacher sent a letter to the Capital School District Board of Education asking for unpaid leave. Instead, they were let go.

The district denies the allegation.

“That is absolutely inaccurate. No one who requested accommodations has been terminated,” said Cooke.

However, WDEL has obtained their request for leave letter, and an email response from the district, dated November 30, 2020, indicating the teacher’s contract would be paid off and their insurance ended. The teacher is considering litigation in the matter.

It seems there is a lot of denial at Dover High School. One of the chief denial makers is a teacher named Lisa Whiteman, the President of the Capital Educators Association. In response to the WDEL article, Whiteman issued a letter to every single teacher at Dover H.S. and for no reason at all, lied about CEA knowing anything about the issues in the article. The full letter can be seen below.

Careful attention should be drawn to the words “Please know CEA had no prior knowledge of the issues brought forth in the article.” This would indicate that they knew absolutely nothing about issues with ADA accommodation issues that teachers were facing. CEA did an investigation into the matter, met with the district, and found the article “to be not completely true in most instances”. Problem solved, right? Wrong. Whiteman lied to every single teacher in the Capital School District in her sad attempt to throw Ferguson under the bus. What does “to be not completely true” even mean? Why didn’t Whiteman address the issues in it that she knew to be true? Whiteman knew. And on more than one occasion.

In an email dated 10/13/2020, from the UniServ Director for the Capital School District, Mike Hoffman, that included Whiteman and Ferguson, it dealt directly with the issues that were mentioned in the article. To understand the matter in it’s full context, I will include Ferguson’s email to Hoffman and others first. As educators do like abbreviations, here is a quick guide: DO = district office, CBA = collective bargaining agreement, CEA – Capital Educators Association

From: Ferguson Leann <Leann.Ferguson@capital.k12.de.us>
Sent: Tuesday, October 13, 2020 1:00 PM
To: Hoffmann, Mike [DE] <Mike.Hoffmann@DSEA.org>
Cc: Leighty Thomas <Thomas.Leighty@capital.k12.de.us>; Omans Wendy <wendy.omans@capital.k12.de.us>
Subject: [External] Concerns re: employee rights/covid protocols re: ADA accommodations

Hello Mike, 

Hope you are well.  We have been hearing from more and more staff members who have serious concerns about the DO handling of a number of issues. This is not new of course but the pandemic appears to have emboldened the DO.  Some staff members believe this amounts to unilaterally rewriting certain aspects of our CBA.  I know you have been contacted regarding the demand to submit lesson plans and the DO disregard for our contract language that specifically prohibits that unless a staff member is on an improvement plan. That issue has not been resolved but we have a far more pressing situation on the horizon.  We have already been contacted by staff members who have submitted the required documentation related to requesting ADA compliant accommodations.  The manner in which the DO is handling this has given rise to a fear that staff members with be subject to disparate treatment under the law.  

We are asking for the support and guidance of the DSEA as we navigate this process. I’m sure you are having similar situations across the state and that the DSEA would want to present a united position on providing protection and support for its membership.  

Staff members who have already submitted medical documentation requesting accommodations have been told by Ms. Cooke that she will contact them individually and discuss each case individually.  None of the staff members we have spoken with have expressed any level of comfort with this.  They do not want to engage with DO unless union support is present during any discussions. Ms. Cooke has also stated (on the record in a recent IAC meeting) that each request for accommodation would be handled individually and that the granting of accommodations would depend on the position of the staff member making the request.  In other words, your request will be granted or denied based on the professional position you hold.  This appears to constitute “disparate treatment” in the eyes of the law.  (EEOC documentation)

I have read the State benefits explanations re: covid benefits and coverages. I have read the EEOC and ADA regulations and recommendations.  We are deeply concerned about the level of discretionary authority afforded a single individual in the DO.  This individual does not hold a medical degree and appears to be making unilateral decisions about risk exposure and notification of affected staff.  (See her recent response to my letter of concern re: notification of potential staff exposure to Covid 19.

We have seen a pattern of disregarding the CEA CBA from the DO.  We are truly in uncharted territory here and we believe we would be best served by engaging in a formal, transparent process to develop acceptable MOU’s to address these very important protections for our members.  The conduct and commentary from the DO is clear on one point only; their primary objective is to protect the DO, NOT the staff.  Ms. Cooke has stated on more than one occasion that the DO will not accept any liability for exposure to covid, that WC coverage would not be applied and would be “difficult to prove”, and that the DO will be making ALL decisions unilaterally as to who will be afforded “reasonable accommodations” and who will not.  The DO has indicated that they will attempt to do this by aggressively interpreting and applying HIPAA.  The HIPAA Privacy Rule states the following: “A major goal of the Privacy Rule is to assure that individuals’ health information is properly protected while allowing the flow of health information needed to provide and promote high quality health care and to protect the public’s health and well-being.” 

So far, the DO actions have protected the DO without transparency and consideration for the “public’s health and well-being”.  We believe this level of discretionary authority at the DO level has created tremendous risks for the health, safety, and financial well-being of protected members of the CEA.  We are asking for your guidance and support as we proceed.  

I would be happy to discuss these concerns in more detail. You can reach me via cell at your convenience.   

Thank you very much. 

Best Regards, 
Leann H. Ferguson 

In Hoffman’s reply to Ferguson he not only included Whiteman but also mentioned her name in the email and the act of setting up a meeting with her to discuss the issues that eventually led to the WDEL article this week:

From: Hoffmann, Mike [DE] <Mike.Hoffmann@DSEA.org>
Sent: Tuesday, October 13, 2020 2:01 PM
To: Ferguson Leann <Leann.Ferguson@capital.k12.de.us>
Cc: Leighty Thomas <Thomas.Leighty@capital.k12.de.us>; Whiteman Lisa <Lisa.Whiteman@capital.k12.de.us>; Omans Wendy <wendy.omans@capital.k12.de.us>
Subject: [External] RE: Concerns re: employee rights/covid protocols re: ADA accommodations 

Good afternoon,

I understand and appreciate your concerns.  There are questions being raised in other districts as well around ADA accommodations.  I am in consult with our attorney on these concerns and have been directed to obtain any denial of the accommodations in writing.  I do agree that a lot of power, when it comes to deciding who gets what accommodations has been given the HR departments.   The accommodations are there to address the ability of a person to carry out their job without the accommodations.  This would be different depending on what that job is and the duties needed to successfully carry out the job. We need to have data on who has requested accommodations and the result of that request.  I would like to set up a meeting with you and TH along with Lisa Whiteman to discuss the concerns.  If there are contract violations that need to be addressed with MOU’s let’s talk about them.  I would certainly encourage anyone that is having a conversation with Mary Cooke about the request for accommodations, ask that there be a representative present.  I am available to attend these meetings if needed.

She does not have to grant that request but lets see how that plays out.  CEA has a meeting tomorrow and I will bring your concerns up, and talk with Lisa about setting up a meeting with you and TH.  I appreciate your advocacy for a safe working environment for you, the students and your colleagues.

Mike Hoffmann

DSEA UniServ Director

If Hoffman knew about these issues as an employee of the Delaware State Education Association it should be assumed folks at DSEA were brought up to speed with the ADA issues with Capital teachers. But this cannot be verified at the time of this writing. But what is very troublesome is the fact that Whiteman denied any knowledge of these issues and then compounded on this lie by collaborating with the Capital School District officials in an “investigation” she herself knew was completely true.

To add insult to injury, the issue was addressed again in an email exchange between Whiteman and Ferguson on November 4th, 2020:

From: Ferguson Leann <Leann.Ferguson@capital.k12.de.us>
Sent: Tuesday, November 3, 2020 8:11 PM
To: Whiteman Lisa <Lisa.Whiteman@capital.k12.de.us>
Cc: Leighty Thomas <Thomas.Leighty@capital.k12.de.us>; Omans Wendy <wendy.omans@capital.k12.de.us>; mike.hoffmann@dsea.org <mike.hoffmann@dsea.org>
Subject: Advocacy Concerns Greetings,
 

Would you please advise as to what CEA leadership actions are being taken to address the many unresolved concerns of staff members?  As we attempt to safely navigate many challenges, we have been waiting for communication from CEA Leadership as to advocacy actions on behalf of the membership.  Will you be addressing these unresolved concerns at the Board of Education meeting tomorrow night?  Some of the issues that remain unresolved are unknown numbers of students (the DO policy of allowing any student “on the bus”)increasing numbers of people in the building at any point in time, lack of an enforceable policy of mask wearing for all students, cleaning of surfaces contacted by food, inconsistent communication from the DO regarding covid positive notifications(this makes contact tracing nearly useless if the DO has discretion on who gets notified) and last but certainly not least, the inflexibility of the DO in addressing staff accommodations requests, forcing many to choose between their health and safety or their livelihoods. These and many more issues affect all of us. 

The covid case numbers are rising everywhere.  The CEA membership deserves to have clear, consistent and transparent plans for successfully reopening our classrooms. The members need to have copies of the DPH and CDC guidance the DO says it is following including all District procedures demonstrating full compliance with CDC and DPH recommendations. The safety and well-being of the staff and students should be the most important factor as we proceed forward.  

Thank you for your consideration.  

Best Regards, 
Leann H. Ferguson Dover High School Social Studies Dept. 

Whiteman responded to Ferguson and very directly discussed the district response to ADA issues.

From: Whiteman Lisa <Lisa.Whiteman@capital.k12.de.us>
Sent: Wednesday, November 4, 2020 8:57 AM
To: Ferguson Leann <Leann.Ferguson@capital.k12.de.us>
Cc: Leighty Thomas <Thomas.Leighty@capital.k12.de.us>; Omans Wendy <wendy.omans@capital.k12.de.us>; mike.hoffmann@dsea.org <mike.hoffmann@dsea.org>
Subject: Re: Advocacy Concerns Hello Leann,

Thank you for voicing your concerns.  

There are answers to each one of them which will be shared below.  

Information has come out from DO (town hall, HR emails)as to what to do next when a member has concerns about: coming back because of personal/health issues, what the district is using to clean (schedules/product ingredient lists), discipline when students are not adhering to the mask-wearing policy and having any student “on the bus” and enter the school, even when they’re not on the list to come in to the school building.

Realizing that you as a district employee and a CEA member and still don’t know the answers means that communication was not given enough times or in multiple ways to reach all appropriate audiences. For that, I apologize, and have taken steps to hopefully remedy the situation.

One step taken is that  I have asked the DO to put answers to all of these in some type of written communication for all members to benefit from the information.  If they choose not to, I have offered to create MOUs to put these procedures in writing.

I have also reached out to a board member to see if I can even approach them with questions for tonight…but am unsure as to how to go about it as this is a “work session”.  If I am able to, I certainly will. Clear and consistent communication is what I see is our weakest link with the DO now…specifically how word is getting out to all the employees in mass distribution.  The district has had emails go out via the HR department and from Paul Dunford and most recently a Town Hall.  I was very supportive of the Town Hall as it seemed to answer a lot of the questions being asked of me by the entire membership, including some that you inquired about.

Specifically, until that “written form” happens, my answers will mirror the response to Mr. Lewis yesterday, that you were also included:

Personal/Health concerns about coming back: Accommodations requests are at the discretion of the employer. The union has no interaction with that.  It’s about being ADA compliant according to the law. Mrs. Cooke has continued to meet with individuals and sometimes with our UNISERV rep, Mike, who is also on this email. She’s offered information on accommodations to keep teachers safe and has asked them to bring them to their doctor to see if that is appropriate for individual cases.  I believe in this case, the members have been and continue to be supported.

Cleaning (schedules/product ingredient lists): It was stated in the Town Hall that a list of the product ingredients used in the disinfecting of the schools is available via the chief custodian and your building principal and will be given to you when requested. Cleaning schedules are set by the building administrator and will be communicated to you via the building administrator. I believe in this case, we are also supporting our members by making this information available.

Non-compliance of mask wearing policy: It was stated first at the board meeting and then again at the town hall that there is a progressive discipline process where 2 documented forms of redirection/re-education will need to happen, then a mandatory administrative meeting with the student and parent, then the student would be sent home to have the only option of learning as “virtual”. In this case, I believe the membership is being supported in the area of safety.

Accepting all students who attempt to “board the bus”: It was stated at the board meeting, but not sure it was at the town hall, that no student will be turned away.  It was stated that it was a far greater concern for the safety of the child, who if turned away, may not have adequate supervision if left at the stop.  So, the next step that was mentioned was that the student (who because of the way the bus seating is set up) would board the bus, remain socially distant, and then be greeted by adminstration/designee at the school, held at the office or a designated space and admin would contact the parent, or keep the student safe, under their care, keeping the socially distant requirements of the CDC in the building. In this case, I believe the members are being supported in the area of safety, while still holding the accountability of safety of the students on the DO’s shoulders.

Again, thank you for reaching out and sharing your concerns.  It is my intent to increase the clarity of communication from the district to the membership.

Lisa Whiteman

Teacher & Educational Diagnostician

William Henry Middle School

Capital School District

Whiteman’s assertion that the union, including CEA and DSEA has NO involvement with ADA issues seems to be contradictory. Why did Mike Hoffman attend a meeting with Capital School District’s Human Resources Director Mary Cooke covering ADA Interactive Processes?

In multiple Capital School District Board of Education meetings in 2020, Cooke and Director of Instruction Paul Dunford told the board the district expects teacher losses. By playing games with ADA requests, it seems the district is cherry-picking who they can give ADA accommodations to. They are accepting certain requests and not others. Which is highly illegal.

The heart of the ADA matter involves the law around it. In the case with the teacher that was terminated, the teacher provided the letter from their physician which explicitly said the teacher should not be doing in-person learning. By ADA law that is all the district needed to honor the ADA request. But instead they denied that request and asked for additional medical information which, according to the ADA, is also against the law to ask for more information. So why would a school district, which is expecting teacher losses, mess around with a federal law? Did they think they were above the law?

In the case of the terminated teacher, they did what they thought they should based on all the guidance they received from the school district and in compliance with ADA law. They went to their doctor, received a doctor’s note for the ADA request. They issued it to district human resources and was denied their request and told they had to provide more medical information. Because the teacher was already in full compliance with the requirements set forth by ADA law, they did not obtain the illegal request for more medical information in violation of ADA law. They then wrote a letter to the Capital Board of Education on 11/27/2020 requesting an FLMA absence and instead of an answer from the Board they received an email from the District on 11/30/2020 stating the following:

I wanted to let you know that we will be paying off your contract on the 12/18/20 check. Also, you will not have insurance after today. You will receive COBRA information in the mail. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

I’m not an attorney but I know enough to know this was indeed a termination with a slew of labor law issues, including violations with ADA, Equal Employment Oppurtunity Commission (EEOC) and the actual Capital Educators Association Collective Bargaining Agreement that the district is bound to.

Getting back to Whiteman’s letter to the entire union membership of Capital School District teachers, I would really like to know what her “investigation” with the district consisted of considering she already knew about the ADA issues going on with teachers. In addition, why is Whiteman telling teachers to go to the district office when there is already an issue with ADA accommodation requests? If she wants to claim ignorance on the issue why did she not seek guidance set forth by the National Education Association (NEA)? Did she not understand how her own union works?

These are my questions: What is the level of collusion between the CEA leadership team and the Capital School District? Why is Whiteman, who is supposed to work with teachers, working with Mary Cooke, who has already proven she knows how to break multiple labor laws, to clarify ADA issues in a WDEL article that Whiteman herself already knew about? It isn’t like the NEA gave specific guidance on this issue, right? Oh wait, they did, as seen below:

What is the district going to do about their HR Director, Mary Cooke, in the face of all this? How much did Interim Superintendent Dr. Sylvia Henderson know about this? If the CEA President would lie about a WDEL article that she wasn’t even mentioned in how much can the teachers of the Capital School District trust their union leadership? Has this situation played out in other Delaware school districts with ADA requests during the pandemic? Why are teacher losses even an acceptable scenario with district officials at Capital? Why would they speed up that process by terminating a teacher that did everything they were supposed to do? Which leads to a more fundamental question and the biggest of them all: what are teacher unions doing if they don’t protect and support the teachers who need them the most?

This article was not an easy one for me to write. I support a lot of the same things the teacher unions do. We have stood in unison at Legislative Hall supporting legislation through public comment. I have fought for teachers in this state more times than I can count. But what I cannot abide is any supposed union leader turning their back on a fellow educator and throwing them under the bus the way Whiteman did to Ferguson. Teachers in Delaware pay roughly $750 a year for membership in the teachers union. For teachers like Ferguson and the Capital teacher that was terminated they might as well throw that money away because their union failed them.

In full disclosure, my son attends the Capital School District. Nothing in this article is a reflection of my personal experiences with the district. Until this week, with the exception of Mike Hoffman, I never heard of the educators mentioned in this article as well as the WDEL article. If this were about any other district in this state, with the information provided, I would be writing about the exact same thing. This is about a deadly pandemic affecting our state and teachers are scared. When districts use those fears against teachers it is time for rampant change that has to happen now. When the very same teachers union that is supposed to advocate AND protect teachers turns their back it is incumbent upon the teachers union to re-examine what they stand for.

While Whiteman’s actions are deplorable in this situation there are a great deal of lessons to be learned here. Education isn’t just for students. All too often the adults involved need to be schooled as well. It takes extreme bravery for a teacher like Leann Ferguson to do what she did. She approached her union multiple times for guidance and assistance. The responses she received, given the preponderance of evidence which indicated Mary Cooke broke the law, were not sufficient. Her moral conscience demanded she do more for the educators in her district. It wasn’t for personal gain or fame. It was to help those who needed help. Which is more than the teachers union President at Capital did. I support a teachers union that does the right thing. Not the farce Whiteman has turned it into.

If we are going to fix education in Delaware it starts in our schools. There are far too many players involved for these silly power games to be going on. It is, and always should be, about the students first. Teachers second. But our schools are run by bureaucracies that don’t seem to realize that very simple attitude. It is about power and ego. Arrogance and stupidity. Teachers want to teach and the less bureaucracy they have in their way the more students will learn. It isn’t rocket science.

Dover State Rep Candidate Alleges He Got The Shaft From DSEA Over Endorsement

Ralph Taylor, a Democrat candidate for the 31st District Representative Primary, just unleashed a tirade against the Delaware State Education Association over what he alleges are unfair practices for endorsements.

Continue reading