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WTU's Veep Sent Back To School

Nathan Saunders, the second-ranking leader of the Washington Teachers' Union, has been an outspoken critic of both Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and WTU president George Parker, denouncing one for her performance-based salary proposals and the other as a weak and credulous labor leader. Saunders even sued Parker, unsuccessfully, in federal court last year, charging that Parker violated his free speech protections by barring him from speaking publicly for the union.

Now DCPS has sent Saunders, the union's general vice president, back to the classroom, abruptly ending the leave of absence routinely granted to WTU leaders so they can spend full time on union business. School officials say he never properly applied for an extension of his leave. Saunders says that's bunk and that DCPS and Parker have contrived to effectively oust him.

"There's no question about it," said Saunders, who was ordered in a letter from Deputy Chancellor Kaya Henderson to report to Eastern High School this morning or be fired. "This has everything to do with what transpired inside union meetings."

Henderson did not respond to an e-mailed request for comment. Parker said he never received Saunders' annual application to renew his leave, and that their personal differences are beside the point. As it stands, he said, it's matter between Saunders and DCPS.

"If he has a legitimate reason that he should not have been told to return to school, it needs to be looked into," Parker said. "Our personal relationship shouldn't have anything to do with it."

Saunders said his trip back to the classroom began on December 22, when he went to Turner at Green Elementary School in Southeast D.C, to meet with teachers. In a Christmas Eve letter to Parker and Saunders, Henderson said Saunders had violated the union's contract with DCPS by not checking in with the principal's office. She also said she understood that Saunders had told teachers that Rhee was requiring each school place three teachers on 90-day probationary plans.

"These statements, if Nathan made them, are false," Henderson wrote. "We expect them not to be repeated. If they are, we will pursue all available legal options." Saunders wrote back on Jan. 13, accusing her of threatening him with retaliation for union activity and demanding an apology.

Two weeks later, Henderson wrote to Saunders informing him that his leave of absence had expired in early 2007. Saunders says he applied to the DCPS general counsel's office for a new leave, but that it was never acted upon. He applied again last month, but was told by Henderson in a letter and e-mail that the forms "were not sufficient" because they were not in the form of a memorandum of understanding signed by Parker.

Saunders said his leaves of absence had never before required that kind of documentation, and that Parker and Henderson had changed the requirements without telling him.

Parker said that's nonsense, and that the process hasn't changed. In an e-mail last week to Saunders, he said: "The bottom line here Nathan is that you have created your current circumstances by yourself and to attempt to avoid responsibility by trying to blame me is ridculous and unethical at a minimum."

Saunders can still serve as vice president while working at Eastern, and he said he has no problem with going back to being a social studies teacher. He reported this morning per Henderson's orders.

But he also said that this isn't over.

"I'm honored to be a teacher," he said. "What I have a problem with is being forced out with the assistance of the union...I want the issue resolved."

Bill Turque

By Bill Turque  |  April 27, 2009; 9:48 PM ET
Categories:  Bill Turque , Education  
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Mr. Saunders, you must fight for your right.

You may need more than courage, you need t stop the expectation that neither DCPS not the WTU will make any beneficial improvement without a Superior Court battle.
Thanks to this report we now know that there are honorable WTU members.

Although, it may be more beneficial to leave WTU and DCPS for a better position, and, you can sue both and maintain an income.

Feel free to email or write c/o my WaPo sign-up.

Good luck and best wishes.

Posted by: eglobegus | April 28, 2009 12:25 AM | Report abuse

"These statements, if Nathan made them, are false," Henderson wrote. "We expect them not to be repeated. If they are, we will pursue all available legal options." Saunders wrote back on Jan. 13, accusing her of threatening him with retaliation for union activity and demanding an apology.

Two weeks later, Henderson wrote to Saunders informing him that his leave of absence had expired in early 2007.

teachdc says:
If the leave expired in 2007, why did it take Deputy Kaya Henderson two years to follow-up?

--Timing seems a bit too coincidental, ya think? Sounds like a little get back on the part of Deputy Chancellor Kaya Henderson and WTU President George Parker.

Fight on, Saunders! Fight on!

Posted by: teachdc | April 28, 2009 5:08 AM | Report abuse

This is absolutely ridiculous and a clear example of how the Chancellor, the Mayor and now George Parker abusively use power to malign. Nathan Saunders has been an advocate for teachers who were bullied and harassed and it's now obvious that he has fallen victim. The union should be outraged; but then George would have to do his job. Of course, Kaya and Rhee are going to institute road blocks for Nathan because he' on the side of fair and just. It's a shame that someone can't be respected for a difference of opinion instead of buried alive. I'm appalled and ashamed for the teachers, the union and the Chancellor' office. There appears to be an easy solution. Sign the leave of absence!!!!!!! The day Nathan is fired, all teachers should walk off the job, take personal leave, sick leave or something. Stand up for something because you appear to be lying down for everything!!!!!!!

Posted by: wtf1 | April 28, 2009 6:15 AM | Report abuse



Posted by: | April 28, 2009 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Just another example of how Fenty and Rhee abuse their power. If anyone does not agree with Fenty or Rhee, they are punished. When will DC wake up. People please let your councilman,the mayor's office and DCPS know that we will not put up with such behavior.Let's start to let our voices be heard. DC deserves better!

Posted by: DCWatcher3 | April 28, 2009 12:31 PM | Report abuse

George Parker is the most dangerous union President in the country. He routinely works against union members and sides with management. The Washington Teacher Union deserves representation that cares about teachers and kids it's clear Mr. Parker just cares about petty vengeance.

Posted by: jcan0284 | April 28, 2009 12:58 PM | Report abuse

What does it take to remove Parker.

Posted by: qaz2 | April 28, 2009 1:19 PM | Report abuse

The fact that the vice president of the WTU has been sent back to the classroom, when DCPS gives a routine leave of absence to elected union officials is so fishy. It looks so much like a set up. Next thing I bet the principal of that school will be sent to observe him in the classroom and further target him. And so what he said that Rhee is having principals put 3 teachers per building on the 90 day plan. Maybe it's not true and maybe it is. I've heard and read the same thing. Teachers say all kinds of things about Rhee anyway. This whole thing stinks and I'm not a Rhee hater at all, but let's call this like it is.

Posted by: chelita | April 28, 2009 1:22 PM | Report abuse

Just as we tell our students to do, I re-read the article. Parker says he was too busy to sign a memo of understanding? What a crock!!

Posted by: chelita | April 28, 2009 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Teachers should be outraged that George Parker can’t save his own from the bullying tactics of the Chancellor and the Mayor. You need the voice of Nathan Saunders because all George will do is bend over. This is absolutely ridiculous in a town built on democracy. How is it that the people in power (the Mayor, the Chancellor, Kaya Henderson and George Parker) are using their power and positions to silence people. Why is it that Nathan’s voice shouldn’t be heard. Is it because he doesn’t align with the beliefs of those in power and that he’s constantly fighting to maintain the integrity of the teacher’s union and that all of his work is centered around supporting the teacher who in turn teaches the children. Is that a bad thing. No, it’s not but in a world where people seek only to destroy, it’s seems fine. How do they sleep at night, hiding behind the premise that it’s all for the children and if it is then why isn’t Nathan respected for his opinions on the issues.

Posted by: wtf1 | April 28, 2009 2:53 PM | Report abuse


If you are reading these posts, please tell us what we need to do next! We need you in the union. Tell us what is needed to change this!

Posted by: | April 28, 2009 10:18 PM | Report abuse

As a dcps teacher, i think teachers, should inform all teachers in their schools as to what has transpired (because most teachers don't even know what is going on), documents can be found and read on, they should also call their union office and contact their field representative to let them know that George should sign the memorandum of understanding immediately and should also get together to send a message to the Chancellor that this is the last straw by arranging to call in sick or take a personal day on a specified day so that she is well aware that the teachers mean business. You could also start up a petition that specifically speaks to how the teachers are treated in our system and how it's apparent that you have a functioning union and more importantly, a union president who does negotiate with teacher input.

It's really time for us as teachers to stand up and send a message. You pay union dues to be represented in a system where teachers are generally bullied and harassed by administration. We need a union in our system because that's our only form of protection against the power machines that desire to fire and not support the teachers. What exactly is education reform? The Chancellor and the Mayor are hiding behind education reform in order to institute policies and procedures that marginalized the teaching staff. It's obvious that they believe In order to reform you have to do away with all and start with everything new. A more practical approach to education reform would be to build on the systems that you have in place and make them better serve the children of the district.

Posted by: wtf1 | April 29, 2009 5:52 PM | Report abuse

i think teachers, should inform all teachers in their schools as to what has transpired (because most teachers don't even know what is going on)

Are you suggesting that most DCPS teachers don't read the newspaper every day? That's obscene! I guarantee you that doesn't happen in MCPS or FCPS.

Posted by: bbcrock | April 30, 2009 4:48 PM | Report abuse


this item didn't hit the newspapers until today. i'm not suggesting that teachers in dc don't read, i'm suggesting that teachers in dc mobilize against this effort.

Posted by: wtf1 | April 30, 2009 5:17 PM | Report abuse

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