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Employment Law Attorney Ralph Teti Comments on the Hope Moffett Federal Lawsuit and Teachers' Rights

March 11, 2011

Union: District's actions against Hope violate all teachers' rights (Philadelphia Daily News)

By: Valerie Russ

Hope Moffett may be at the center of a federal lawsuit filed yesterday to block the Philadelphia School District from firing her, but the city's teachers' union says the action was taken to protect the free-speech rights of all teachers.

"When we are talking about what is happening in our community and in our schools, the teachers' voices should be heard," said Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan.

It's expected that Moffett, an 11th-grade English teacher who has worked at Audenried for less than three years, could have been fired at next Wednesday's School Reform Commission meeting. 
But the action against her will now be on hold until lawyers for the PFT and the school district meet in front of U.S. District Judge Thomas O'Neill Jr. The meeting could come next week.
The suit says the district's disciplinary actions against Moffett violate all PFT members' "rights to exercise freedom of speech on matters of public concern."
The suit lists as defendants the district, the School Reform Commission, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman and Linda Cliatt-Wayman, assistant superintendent for high schools, who recommended on Monday that the district fire Moffett.
Moffett and a union representative had been scheduled to meet with Associate Superintendent Penny Nixon on Monday for a hearing on Cliatt-Wayman's recommendation.
Cliatt-Wayman said Moffett violated district policies and state law by providing SEPTA tokens to students who left Audenried, at 33rd and Tasker streets, during school hours on Feb. 15 to attend a protest against the Renaissance plan outside district headquarters, at Broad and Spring Garden streets.
The suit asserts that she didn't encourage students to attend the Feb. 15 demonstration, but suggested "they should attend the SRC meeting after school hours on Feb. 16" instead.
Ralph Teti, a PFT lawyer, said the district's swift actions against Moffett were unprecedented.
"In the 20 years I've been doing work for the PFT, I don't know of anyone disciplined for any infraction with this kind of speed," Teti said.
Meanwhile, in her 13th day out of the classroom, Moffett will report again today to the "rubber room" in the basement of the High School Academic Division building, Ridge and Susquehanna avenues.
"I feel the union is supporting me, and that's allowing me to focus on the issue I care most about, and that is what is happening to Audenried," Moffett said.
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