A Matter of Public Concern on Railroading, Failed Levies, and Bad Decisions in Washington State

One educator’s fight for his First Amendment rights
Unsplash, Johannes Plenio
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Kennewick has a railroad. Kennewick has a school district headquarters near that railroad. Apparently, some folks over at the school district building got mixed up and began to dabble in railroading. 

See Merriam-Webster’s Definition of railroading (Entry 2 of 2):

railroaded; railroading; railroads transitive verb

a: to convict with undue haste and by means of false charges or insufficient evidence

b: to push through hastily or without due consideration

Wordplay aside, I am the recipient of said railroading. 

The Situation

I recently received an “award” from a mutually agreed upon arbitrator by way of a statutory hearing in Hall v. Kennewick School District. The matter was over my termination for wearing a mask with the statement “let them breathe” to work as an English teacher at Kennewick High School on November 3, 2021. 

The ruling reads:

I. It is the decision of the Hearing Officer that the District did not have sufficient cause to terminate Mr. Hall.

II. It is therefore Ordered that Complainant be restored to his position as a certificated teacher at Kennewick High School, made whole for his losses and awarded reasonable attorney fees.

This decision was delivered May 11, 2022. Imagine my surprise when this took place given one union associate stated prior to my termination that an appeal would be an “unwinnable case.”

As I prepared to return to work two weeks ago, communication via all parties lagged as had become the custom by now, six months into the process. On May 18th, I was notified that I was to be placed on “paid, non-disciplinary, administrative leave” for the remainder of the year. We asked that the arbitrator issue an order to compel them to put me back to work. He did not weigh in on the validity of the district’s move, only to state that he did not have jurisdiction to enforce his own ruling. 

Next, I appealed to the district administration and members of the board. After deliberating over my complaint that this did not seem to serve the intent of the ruling, I received a letter from the HR superintendent stating their “highest priority is to ensure that there is no disruption to students’ continuity of learning” (Read: We don’t want you back). It also mentions that I am restored to my position, my email account is reactivated, and Bob’s your uncle. 

Meanwhile, a long-term substitute is being paid and has been since November to do the job I was hired to do for the last four years. Thankfully, my recent back-pay will be restored, but it is a little unsettling for me to continue to be paid for work that I am not doing. Call me old-fashioned. Still, I am eager to return to my classroom to bring closure for my students and to give the guidance and instruction I am being paid to deliver as the year draws to a close. There is no ill-will or bad blood on my part. I now suspect this is not (and maybe never was) reciprocated from the KSD.

Implications

Given the failure of our recent levy, it is counterintuitive and irresponsible to be paying two teachers to do the same job: the original teacher and a substitute. Only the original teacher is at home in a non-remote, non-hybrid, non-work sort of way. Many teachers request substitutes and cannot get them due to an explicit shortage. Often, administrators warn staff ahead of time that no substitutes will be granted abutting a holiday.

Clairvoyance is not necessary to see why this is being done despite the cardboard explanation. How embarrassing for the principal and administration to be shown to have made a poor and legally unsupported decision. This is how inept leadership is propagated anywhere it exists: through doubling-down and continuing with failed actions of the past. This is just one small example of how unaccountable schools in our state are being led. 

Lastly, failure is a big problem in schools. Before any blame can be laid at any student’s feet, accountability for failure must be demonstrated by those in charge. Without authenticity and accountability, what is the point of education? In such a case, it is teaching our kids that the pursuit and protection of power is all that matters. 

David Hall
David Hall is a Tri-Cities, WA native and has taught English at Kennewick High School since 2018 and prior to that abroad in Europe and the Middle East.