Citing "misconceptions and misinformation" surrounding the union grievance filed late last year against Gunn High School Principal Denise Herrmann, the Palo Alto Educators Association executive board emailed its members Tuesday apologizing if the controversy had made their jobs "more difficult" or caused any "complications" for teachers at work.
Union president Teri Baldwin confirmed the email message Wednesday after it was posted on Town Square, the Weekly's reader comment forum.
The message vigorously defended the grievance, stating, "If we don't protect our contract, why bother having one?"
"Union values call for collective action and support, which sometimes means we may not agree when a grievance is filed, but we must support the right of the union or an individual to do so. An injury to one is an injury to all," the message said.
Baldwin has said that the union viewed Herrmann's "directive" that teachers use Schoology, an online schoolwork-management system, as a violation of the union's contract. For her part, Herrmann denied she gave a directive but rather that she made a "passionate" request.
Several informal attempts by the union, its Gunn representatives and Herrmann to resolve the conflict since September ended in the filing of the official grievance in November. This followed an Oct. 22 message that Herrmann sent to parents, communicating her expectation that all teachers use Schoology and, one week later, a staff meeting during which she "issued another directive," the union message reads.
Herrmann said her goal was to foster increased communication between students, teachers and parents about students' workloads and have Schoology be the central place where all that information can be found, but some teachers objected to the burden that this would place on them.
"This action had two consequences," the union said of Herrmann's message to parents. "1) It publicly made teachers look bad if they didn't use Schoology and 2) it made public an issue that was being actively negotiated by PAEA and the district during ongoing bargaining talks. In characterizing the issue the way she did, Herrmann violated accepted bargaining practice. As a district representative, her actions influenced a sensitive bargaining issue and caused our talks to stall."
The union's executive board decided to file the grievance after the Oct. 29 staff meeting and was under a 10-day timeline mandated by the teachers contract to do so, according to Baldwin.
Tuesday's message also addresses what it describes as an "unfair portrayal" in a recent Palo Alto Weekly article that revealed the grievance, for which the Weekly had to file a Public Records Act request.
Baldwin told the Weekly Wednesday that she thought the title of the article, "Union rebukes Gunn principal over homework 'directive,'" was unfair because the grievance "was never about homework."
The union felt compelled to write to its members this week its first official communication with teachers on the grievance -- to dispel any misperceptions about why or how the grievance was filed, Baldwin said.