ANDOVER — The Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations issued a ruling Thursday that said a former principal violated multiple labor laws in 2019 at South Elementary School.
Labor board Hearing Officer Sara Skibski Hiller wrote that former Principal Tracy Crowley created the appearance of illegally spying on the teachers’ union and wrongfully reprimanding a teacher during an investigation, according to the ruling. The ruling came against the School Committee because it was Crowley’s employer at the time. Hiller ordered the committee to agree to remove the reprimand letter from the teacher’s file and to not interfere with the employees’ collective bargaining rights.
The allegations stem from a November 2019 Andover Education Association meeting held by South Elementary School teachers. The previous day Crowley had held a staff meeting where an ice breaker game made staff “feel uncomfortable and embarrassed,” according to the 40-page judgment.
There had already been tension at the school between the administration and staff. Staff had created a so-called “climate committee” to look into those issues. During the association’s meeting, teachers discussed their discomfort and subsequently some of the teachers brought that to Crowley’s attention.
After it was brought to her attention, Crowley expressed her displeasure about the staff speaking about her, which caused Hiller to conclude she had broken the law, according to the judgment.
“Even if the actual surveillance of union meetings does not occur, creating the impression of surveillance constitutes unlawful interference,” Hiller wrote.
During this same time a special education teacher received a written reprimand, which Crowley said she would take out of the teacher’s file.
However, before Crowley was set to discard the note, Crowley found out the teacher had discussed the former principal’s behavior with the association’s president. Crowley then kept the reprimand on file for the teacher.
Hiller found Crowley keeping the note in the teacher’s file to be unlawful retaliation, so she ordered the reprimand removed from the file.
Other allegations, including allegations against the Superintendent’s Office, were dismissed, according to the judgment.
Crowley left the district shortly after the alleged wrongdoing in January 2020 on an extended medical leave. She did not return from that leave.
“We are happy that (the judgment) vindicated that our union activists were retaliated against at South, that the staff and school committee were surveilling our association members,” said Matthew Bach, president of the Andover Education Association. “These counts are the beginning. We still have another hearing with several more counts of probable cause at the labor board.”
While the judgment only highlighted particular wrongdoings of the former principal, Bach said the superintendent’s office and School Committee enabled the bad behavior.
“Rather than acknowledging a mistake, there was continued resistance to obfuscate and redirect attention, which is not the way we would have preferred this to go,” Bach said. “Right when the teachers started to organize a climate committee there should have been cooperation with the district. It could have been handled in a better way that could have mediated a better solution.”
School Committee Chair Susan McCready signed the notice to employees Thursday afternoon, which was part of the department’s decision.
“As expected, the Department of Labor Relations confirmed the propriety of the district’s actions in investigating allegations of a hostile work environment at the South Elementary School in 2019. 15 of 18 charges brought by the union, including all those of major significance, were dismissed,” McCready said. “The three minor infractions that remained were based on actions by a former employee of the district.”