Union claims EBR school system violated law with ad praising teachers

A local teachers union claims the East Baton Rouge Parish school system violated its employee privacy rights with a full-page ad it purchased in the Sunday Advocate congratulating by name 1,113 educators rated highly effective under the state’s new teacher evaluation system.

“They may have been well-intentioned, thinking they were recognizing teachers for doing well on a flawed and unfair evaluation system,” said Carnell Washington, president of the East Baton Rouge Parish Federation of Teachers, in a statement Tuesday.

“But the fact is that the School Board violated state statute and the privacy of teachers.”

In a written response, Superintendent Bernard Taylor defended the ad’s legality. “To the extent anyone felt slighted in any way, we sincerely apologize,” Taylor wrote. “Please know that we appreciate and honor the work of all of our teachers and our intentions in publicly recognizing those rated highly effective was in keeping with applicable law and a history of recognizing significant accomplishments by staff and students.”

Both Washington and Taylor cited different passages of the same law, known as Act 54, to justify their stances. That’s the law that created the teacher evaluation system COMPASS.

Washington focuses on a section that says the results of COMPASS evaluations “are confidential, do not constitute a public record, and shall not be released or shown to any person” except to the employee, relevant school personnel or to a court if there’s litigation.

Taylor cites another passage that says school systems should set a standard so they can “recognize, reward, and retain teachers who demonstrate a high level of effectiveness.”

“We published a full page ad to honor that category of teachers,” Taylor wrote.

Washington said the school system could have held a reception or something similar to honor these teachers, but naming them in the newspaper went too far.

Since Sunday, he said, he’s heard complaints from several teachers and school administrators. “(The principals) thought it would divide their faculty,” he said.

Washington said another concern is that parents will start demanding that their kids be taught only by teachers who are rated highly effective.

The state Federation of Teachers chapter is suing to block the teacher evaluation law, particularly changes the Legislature made in 2012 that made it easier to fire teachers under the new system and made it difficult to earn tenure.

“We don’t believe that these evaluations are legitimate or that they are accurate portrayals of teachers’ ability in the first place,” Washington said.