Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Blogging Central Bucks teacher is fired

Natalie Munroe says the Central Bucks School District is retaliating against her, violating her freedom of speech, for her blog posts that called some students "frightfully dim" and "utterly loathsome."

Blogging Central Bucks teacher is fired

Blog Image
Natalie Munroe, an 11th grade English teacher, says she was "set up" by the Central Bucks School District. (Bill Reed/Staff)

The Central Bucks High School East teacher whose blog drew national attention for calling students "frightfully dim" and "utterly loathsome" was fired Tuesday for "poor performance.”

Natalie Munroe, an 11th grade English teacher for six years, was dismissed by a 7-0 vote of the school board. The board followed the administration's recommendation, based on a year of class observations and evaluations that Munroe's lawyer has called "retaliatory."

“Ms. Munroe was, at best, a satisfactory teacher and was experiencing performance difficulties well before her blog became an issue,” board President Paul Faulkner said, reading a prepared statement.

To keep her job, Munroe filed suit in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia on Friday, claiming the school district violated her constitutional right to free speech “by harassing and retaliating against her.”

The alleged retaliation was for her blog posts labeling some students as "frightfully dim" and "utterly loathsome." In an October 2009 post, she wrote: “My students are out of control. They are rude, disengaged, lazy whiners.”

The posts by “Natalie M” were meant to be anonymous and did not name the school, students or colleagues, but they included her photo.

Her dismissal “has nothing to do with free speech,” Faulkner said, “but rather [the board’s] obligation to have satisfactory teachers in its classrooms.”

Her performance was monitored and observed the same as other teachers, he said.  

Munroe’s lawyer, Steven Rovner, said the board’s action was expected.

“They brought her back to set her up to fail,” Rovner said in a telephone interview. “That’s why we filed the lawsuit against the district.

Munroe was suspended for the posts in February 2011, after word of them spread on Facebook and other social networks.

Officials reinstated her last summer, citing her legal right to work, but rejected her request for a transfer to another of the district's two high schools. And, in an unusual move, students were allowed to opt out of her classes, leaving her with abnormally small classes.

Starting in October, administrators conducted “retaliatory, unannounced observations of Munroe’s classes,” according to the suit. They “would subject Munroe’s classroom efforts to ridiculous and overly critical evaluations, routinely concluding that lessons which Munroe had been teaching for years were unsatisfactory.”

After four unsatisfactory classroom evaluations, Munroe was ordered to submit daily lesson plans using a time-consuming template designed by the district, according to the suit.

“The sole purpose of this requirement was to retaliate against Munroe for her protected free speech,” the suit said.  “Indeed, other teachers were not required to submit daily lesson plans.” 

Throughout the year, the district created a “hostile and harassing work environment” for Munroe, who was in her sixth year at the school and had tenure, according to the suit.

On June 1, she received her third unsatisfactory performance evaluation and was told of the administration’s plans to recommend her termination at tonight’s meeting, according to the suit.

Munroe, who has done limited blogging since last year’s uproar, responded in a post, “In short, yes, I've been set up.”

She wrote, “I worked hard every day this year to prepare my students for whatever lies before them, to meet the challenges that arose daily, and to perform my myriad duties at work with pride and dignity. Though it will surely be implied otherwise, I know the truth, my colleagues know the truth, my students and their parents know the truth. I stand by my work this year, and every year before.”

Also in response, the Central Bucks Education Association filed a grievance with the district to protect Munroe’s contractual rights, union President Keith Sinn said Monday. He declined to say whether Munroe had been singled out with the classroom observations and evaluations and daily lesson plans. 

Munroe’s suit asks that she keep her job, plus compensatory and punitive damages. It named the district, Superintendent N. Robert Laws and school Principal Abe Lucabaugh. Laws and , Lucabaugh could not be reached for comment by phone or email.         

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About this blog
Chris Palmer covers Bucks County for the Philadelphia Inquirer. His previous work has appeared in the New York Times and on several Times blogs, including City Room, the Local East Village and SchoolBook (which has since been taken over by WNYC). Contact him at cpalmer@phillynews.com, 610 313 8212 or on Twitter, @cs_palmer.

Ben Finley covers Bucks County for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He previously worked for The Associated Press, FactCheck.org and the Bucks County Courier Times, where he won more than a dozen journalism awards from organizations including the Education Writers Association, the Society for Features Journalism and the Pennsylvania Bar Association. He grew up in Columbus, Ohio and graduated with honors from The Ohio State University with a degree in journalism. Contact him at bfinley@phillynews.com, 610-313-8118 or on Twitter, @Ben_Finley.

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