In a news conference Monday, Houston ISD Superintendent Terry Grier joined Houston-area educators and teacher union leaders in a call for school districts to adopt policies against workplace bullying.
Last year Houston ISD became the first school district in the state to adopt such a policy, which outlines specific prohibitions against workplace bullying and a process for teachers and other school workers to file complaints against supervisors who abuse their authority to harass or intimidate employees. The policy was initiated by the Houston Educational Support Personnel (HESP) union, which represents school support personnel in Houston ISD.
HESP President Wretha Thomas said that developing the policy was a great example of union collaboration with the district to solve a problem that was hurting employee morale and retention. “When you have clear expectations for professional behavior and a written policy to back it up, you have a foundation for a better working environment for everyone,” she said.
Texas AFT local unions in the Houston area surveyed school employees in January and February to determine the extent of workplace bullying and found that 68 percent of the respondents said workplace bullying was a problem, with 68 percent also saying they been bullied themselves. Comments from respondents indicated the most common bullying occurred when principals or other district administrators publicly demeaned teachers with yelling and verbal abuse or threats to terminate them. Many respondents also noted that they and their co-workers were afraid to speak up about the bullying for fear of retaliation and losing their jobs.
Louis Malfaro, president of Texas AFT, said the statewide union has started working with districts around the state to try and push them to adopt the policy. El Paso ISD adopted a similar policy last year at the request of the local union there, the El Paso Federation of Teachers and Support Personnel, he noted. Alliance-AFT, the local union for Dallas ISD, also is pushing for a policy after the recent resignation of the district director of human resources for texting unprofessional comments, including a discussion about harassing employees to make them quit.
“When employees are bullied by their administrators, when they are badgered and taunted by workmates on the jobsite, or when the administration uses public reprimands to intimidate employees, the school climate takes a nosedive,” said Karrie Washenfelder, president of the Fort Bend Employee Federation. “The cost in faculty turnover can be more than disheartening; it can mean thousands of dollars lost in training costs, and when that is multiplied over large districts like ours, the cost of a bullying environment can be staggering.”
Gayle Fallon—president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, which represents Houston ISD teachers and certified employees—said workplace bullying shouldn’t be tolerated anywhere, but it is especially egregious in schools. “It’s really sad when you see a teacher publicly berated in a classroom in front of a room full of students,” she said. “Because is that the kind of behavior you want kids to model? We need to be modeling dignity and respect in the workplace.”
Other local unions involved in the workplace bullying campaign and news conference Monday included Alief AFT (Alief ISD), Cy-Fair AFT (Cypress-Fairbanks ISD), Spring Branch AFT (Spring Branch ISD) and Northeast Houston AFT (Channelview, Galena Park and Sheldon ISDs).