Philly School District Caves

And the teachers' union wins

What’s wrong with this picture?

Teacher doesn’t like a possible school district decision. Teacher gives students SEPTA tokens, ostensibly allowing them to attend a protest rally at District headquarters — during the school day. Teacher doesn’t notify principal or parents that students were leaving school. Teacher was allegedly insubordinate by disclosing a document the District wanted kept confidential. Union boss fights efforts to fire teacher on First Amendment grounds.

Teacher wins.

That’s right. Despite an initial effort by the Philadelphia School District to terminate Hope Moffett, a teacher at Audenried High School, she is back at work, smug as ever. And why not? [SIGNUP]

The District completely caved. Instead of pursuing the right course of action, it settled for Moffett to read a non-descript one sentence letter to her class — a statement the District claims is an admission of wrongdoing, but which Moffett bluntly denies. “There’s no apology,” she said. “I think it’s very clear that they wanted an apology, but what they wanted an apology for was something that wasn’t true.”

The statement: “I acknowledge that I didn’t notify the principal on 2/14/2011 that students planned to leave the school building during the school day on 2/15/2011, even though no parental permission had been submitted to the school.”

Seems Moffett is right — no apology there.

The District’s take? They were pleased she was admitting wrongdoing.

“I think her acknowledging that she did something wrong was part of what we were looking for all along,” a District spokeswoman was quoted as saying. “Just that she had some sense of remorse that she put the students in harm’s way.”

Remorse? Where is the remorse when Moffett refused to apologize for placing students in possible danger without any parental or school notification? “It’s ridiculous, but it gets me back into the classroom,” she said, according to the Inquirer. “It is a statement that I’m fine with making because to them it will always be an apology, thereby justifying that I can return to the school.”

“Ridiculous” and “no apology.” Wow. What incredible remorse.

Most interesting was that even Moffett herself “didn’t anticipate being returned to the classroom.” So let’s get this straight. Moffett’s actions led the District to start the firing process, and despite Moffett believing she did nothing wrong, she thought she would lose.

So what happened?

The unions got involved. And since everyone in Philadelphia kowtows to the unions, the ballgame ended. Incomprehensible? Yes. Expected? Absolutely.

Moffett’s union, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT), sued the District on free speech grounds, since Moffett opposed plans to convert Audenried to a charter school. That argument is so hollow that it would be laughed out of court anywhere but Philadelphia.

So a U.S. magistrate judge got involved, and helped broker a deal. (Moffett was also given a five-day suspension, but don’t count on that standing up, since the union is appealing that, too).

The biggest joke in this whole debacle is the notion that both sides can claim a semblance of victory.
Moffett won, and District made fools out of themselves. If that’s “victory” for the District, I’d hate to see what losing is.

The First Amendment has no role whatsoever in this case. Moffett is certainly free to disagree with the District’s charter school plans, and it’s well within her rights to advocate for her cause.

What is unacceptable is to knowingly allow students to leave the safe confines of school and venture unsupervised into the city (facilitated, the District claimed, by giving out the SEPTA tokens), with parents having absolutely no knowledge of their children’s whereabouts. What if a student was involved in an accident while on this unsanctioned field trip? Or mugged? Or raped?

(And let’s be honest — how many students, completely of their own volition, were really motivated to take up this cause as their own? It’s a fact that some teachers use students as pawns in political fights. Was this one of those cases? It certainly raises questions.)

To say the District — and in fact, taxpayers — would be liable for a massive lawsuit is a gross understatement.

And, if as the District contends, Moffett was insubordinate for disclosing a document that it had ordered kept private, they had even more grounds for firing.

Given the facts, Moffett should have been terminated. It’s a case the District should have pursued, because it would have sent the right message. Instead, the clear message is that the District can be bullied into submission, settling for nothing despite holding all the cards.

This is one of those rare cases when the union should have backed away. Loyalty above all, except honor. And there is no honor in what Moffett did.

But why should the union back away when it knows it won’t be challenged? These victories only add to the union’s mystique.

Of course, it’s a good bet this wouldn’t have played out the same way about ten miles east, across the Delaware River. Odds are that Governor Chris Christie would have come swooping in with his trademark thunder, pointing out how cowardly the District was being, aggressively taking on the union, and fighting for justice to be done.

And he would have won.

Too bad we don’t have the same kind of barnstorming leaders in Pennsylvania. If we did, this would have been the perfect opportunity to show that quality.

And little Miss “Moffett” would be eating her curds and whey somewhere other than Audenried High.

Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, Readers of his column, “Freindly Fire,” hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including
The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick
Morris’ recent bestseller “Catastrophe.” Freind also serves as a frequent guest commentator on talk radio and state/national television, most notably on FOX Philadelphia. He can be reached at