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Concord

School district, teacher settle retaliation case

The president of the Concord Teachers Association has reached an agreement with Superintendent Diana Rigby over allegations that the district unlawfully retaliated against her for engaging in union activities.

A veteran third-grade teacher, Merrie Najimy filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations in May after she received negative evaluations and was notified that she would not be rehired at the Thoreau School.

The decision by then-Thoreau principal Kelly Clough sparked outrage among some parents and teachers who held rallies in support of Najimy. As union president, Najimy had been critical of the Thoreau and district administration for low teacher morale.

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In July, the Department of Labor Relations issued a complaint finding there was “probable cause” to believe that such retaliation had occurred, and called for a hearing to be scheduled.

The hearing had been set for earlier this month but was canceled after the two sides agreed to settle, Najimy said.

“I’m very happy,’’ said Najimy, who now teaches kindergarten at the Willard School. “I feel like all the distractions are out of the way and I can focus on being the excellent teacher I’ve always been, and can put full energies into resolving the outstanding issues in the district.’’

The agreement requires the district to remove previous negative evaluations of Najimy from her personnel file, among other remedies. The agreement also says that there has been no finding of fault on behalf of the school system.

Rigby said in an e-mail that the issue was “never about union activities but teacher performance.’’

She added, “I am pleased that Merrie is willing to work with her new principal, and she is responsive to feedback and coaching.’’

According to a statement issued by Rigby and the Concord School Committee, the agreement also outlines provisions that provide Najimy with support to help her at her new school and grade level.

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Najimy will have access to enhanced professional development, and the district is implementing a new teacher evaluation system that will provide “coaching and feedback,’’ according to the district’s statement.

“Superintendent Rigby and the School Committee believe that the agreement, including the professional development supports, is consistent with their mission to deliver the best possible education for students and to create an environment of academic excellence, a respectful and empathic community, professional collaboration, educational equity and continuous improvement,’’ it said.

Shortly after Najimy filed the complaint, she was told that she would be involuntarily transferred to the Willard School to teach kindergarten for this school year. Clough later resigned her position as principal at the end of the school year in the spring.

Under the agreement signed by Najimy, Rigby and Concord Teachers Association vice president Eric Beers, previous negative evaluations of Najimy will be sealed and cannot be used in any future disciplinary proceedings or for making personnel decisions.

Najimy’s current improvement plan will be reconsidered by Willard principal Patricia Fernandes this month. If Najimy’s performance is deemed “proficient,” then the improvement plan will also be removed and sealed with the negative evaluations.

If Fernandes concludes Najimy has the skills needed to teach third grade, Najimy will have the right of first refusal for any opening in a third-grade classroom at the Willard School.

In addition, the School Committee will provide Najimy $15,000 for tuition reimbursement if she takes courses approved by the district.

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Najimy said she decided to agree to a settlement because the hearing would have only dealt with one year of negative evaluations and not all three. She said she was also eager to move on and put the issue behind her.

“I also think that it’s important whenever you can, in any situation, to try to settle things without having to litigate,’’ she said. “Relationships already strained can become more strained with litigation. We got to a point in mediation where both sides could agree and that’s the best thing for the entire community. The community needs to begin healing instead of going through’’ a protracted litigation process, she said.

Najimy said there is still tension between the teachers and administration and morale is still low, but they are working on the relationship through a facilitator.

“I always believe we can move forward,’’ she said. “There just needs to be sincerity on everyone’s part to do so.’’


Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at jflefferts@ yahoo.com.