East Cleveland Teachers ‘Blindsided’ By Year-End Layoffs

FEATURED PHOTO: EAST CLEVELAND CITY SCHOOLS CEO DR. HENRY PETTIEGREW

A MEMBER OF THE EAST CLEVELAND EDUCATION ASSOCIATION (ECEA)

Ideastream.org, By Jenny Hamel, Posted June 8th 2021

After 11 years teaching in the East Cleveland City School District, Quelina Jordan said she was taken completely by surprise when she was laid off May 27 on the last day of school.

Jordan was one of 10 East Cleveland teachers and staff members laid off in the closing days of the academic year. The move “blindsided” the staff, said the East Cleveland Education Association (ECEA), the union for the district’s teachers. The union said district CEO Dr. Henry Pettiegrew made the decision unilaterally and only warned union leadership of pending layoffs a week prior.

“The layoffs were a shock to the entire teaching staff in East Cleveland who have gone so far above and beyond over the past year to meet the challenges of educating students amid a global pandemic,” said Irene Spraggins, ECEA spokesperson, in a written statement. “Their expertise and dedication will be needed now more than ever to help address the learning gaps our students were left with because of the disrupted learning opportunities, but the CEO has once again demonstrated his disregard for the wellbeing of our students and community.” 

The union called the layoffs “unnecessary” and said the staff reduction will lead to increased class sizes “at a time when millions of dollars in federal aid are flowing into the district to prevent those issues.”

“East Cleveland schools are receiving $18,982,399 in American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding through September, 2024. The ARP money, which was approved by Congress earlier this year, is specifically intended to prevent layoffs, among other allowable uses. School districts are required, by law, to consult with educators and their unions about how the ARP money should be spent, but the CEO has continued to refuse to work collaboratively with East Cleveland teachers or even discuss what he plans to do with the funds,” the union statement read. 

A statement from East Cleveland City Schools said ECEA voted May 25 to approve a “memorandum of understanding” between the union and the district administration that “updated the reduction in force procedures outlined in the current master agreement.       

“The implementation of this MOU [memorandum of understanding] is in direct response to continued decreasing enrollment throughout the East Cleveland City School District.  As a result, several teachers across all grade levels were notified both in-person and in-writing that they would be impacted by this decrease in enrollment effective the last day of the teacher contract year.”

The teachers were notified prior to the June 1 deadline stated in the Ohio Revised Code, according to the district. 

East Cleveland was placed under the control of a CEO in 2019 after receiving failing grades on three consecutive state report cards. Under House Bill 70, the CEO has “complete operational, managerial and instructional control of the district,” giving Pettiegrew unilateral power to lay off staff. 

Jordan was told she was being laid off because of declining enrollment numbers and because the career tech program she taught did not have the proper credential. Within days of being laid off, Jordan said she didn’t have access to important emails or work records.

“We were trying to apply for unemployment. We didn’t have access to our [pay] stubs, just to pick up the general paperwork you would file when you’re doing it,” Jordan said. “And it’s just been, unnecessarily, definitely unempathetic, given that that was one of his [Dr. Henry Pettiegrew] virtues or one of his pillars that he was holding high this year about empathy and excellence.”

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