2009-03-13 / Top Stories

Principal Slapped By Arbitrator, Two Reinstated

By Howard Schwach

MS 53 principal Claude Monereau at a public hearing on school violence earlier this year. MS 53 principal Claude Monereau at a public hearing on school violence earlier this year. A "tyrannical" Far Rockaway principal who axed two staffers, "showed a total disregard for disciplinary procedures," according to `an AFSCME Local 372 spokesperson after the two were reinstated and compensated for the illegal firings.

Middle School 53 Parent Coordinator Karen Blanding said that she was shocked when, on June 29, 2007, she was told by school principal Claude Monereau that she was being immediately terminated.

Monereau claimed that Blanding was responsible for the low level of participation by parents at PTA and other school meetings.

School aide Michelle Young suffered a similar fate.

On June 26, 2007, Monereau informed her that she was terminated. The principal told her that she was let go because her attendance and lateness were unacceptable and that she neglected to supervise students at the door of the gymnasium, which he had ordered her to do. She was charged with insubordination for failure to cover the door.

Both women called their union, Local 372, and were assigned to a representative of the union's School Division Grievances, Brenda Jimenez.

Jimenez says that efforts to resolve the matter with the Department of Education were unsuccessful.

As an "empowerment principal," Monereau has wide latitude in hiring and firing personnel, but must still do so under existing chancellor's regulations and contract rules.

At a grievance hearing held on October 24, 2008, the union argued that the allegations against Blanding were without merit and were outside the required course of "progressive discipline" outlined in Department of Education guidelines.

The union asked for reinstatement at full pay.

A lawyer for the DOE argued that parental involvement was low with Blanding in the job. The union, however, pointed out that she was hindered in doing her job when Monereau fired a Spanish translator that assisted her in dealing with the large Hispanic population at the school.

On December 29, the arbitrator ruled that the DOE had produced no evidence that Blanding failed to increase parental involvement at the school and that her termination was premature because Monereau failed to follow the guidelines for terminating a staffer and ordered Blanding reinstated at the school with a year's back pay.

Young's hearing followed closely behind Blanding's.

At a November 19 arbitration hearing, the union pointed out that Young's attendance had improved greatly during the latter part of the year and that the issues involved were minor and required only a verbal warning, not termination.

The arbitrator ruled shortly after the hearing that there was no hint of insubordination by Young and that Monereau had once again failed to follow the DOE progressive discipline rules.

Young was reinstated with full pay and was reimbursed the $270 a month toward the cost of her health insurance she paid while she was off the DOE payroll.

DOE spokesperson Margie Feinberg told The Wave on Wednesday that the question of the arbitration findings is a personnel matter that cannot be discussed, and that the agency was "reviewing the arbitrator's findings" in the two cases.

Both the DOE and Monereau were recently sued by a teacher whom he terminated, reportedly because she was pregnant and unmarried.

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