Union calls for investigation into ‘spying’ on at-home teachers

Unions

South Florida Sun Sentinel | by Scott Travis | February 5, 2021

A teacher’s union is calling for an investigation into the Broward School District’s top lawyer, accusing her of “spying on medically at-risk teachers.”

Anna Fusco, president of Broward Teachers Union, accuses General Counsel Barbara Myrick of authorizing employees to research Facebook pages in an effort to try to catch teachers who are on remote assignment acting irresponsibly.

Fusco sent a letter Jan. 28 to Superintendent Robert Runcie and the nine School Board members asking for an investigation.

The photos show teachers, who had conditions that possibly made COVID-19 more risky, attending a wedding in Jamaica, Animal Kingdom and a rally for Joe Biden. One teacher said a maskless photo of him in a group was taken before the pandemic, while others say they followed social distancing guidelines while attending outdoor activities.

Lawyers for the district used the research two weeks ago in an arbitration hearing, where the union challenged the district’s decision to end more than 1,000 remote work assignments and return those teachers to the classroom.

“It was a jaded attempt to argue that these educators were therefore not in need of medical accommodations,” Fusco wrote. “These pictures have been circulated by print and electronic media. Who thought it was right to go on their Facebook pages?”

The union accuses the district of lying about who researched the teachers. A statement from Chief Communications Officer Kathy Koch’s office last week said the law firm GrayRobinson, which litigated the case for the district, conducted the research. But a memo obtained by the union revealed that Myrick sent all the information to the firm.

Myrick sent a letter to Runcie saying the research was conducted by unnamed district employees, not her.

“Let me start by saying I have never had any social media accounts, nor have I ever gone on Facebook,” Myrick wrote. “The documents that I sent to the attorneys at Gray Robinson was collected by a variety of school district employees and delivered to my office for use at the arbitration hearing.

Runcie replied: “Thanks for your response and clarification that you don’t even have a Facebook account. Moreover, items that are posted on social media are usually viewable by the public.”

Fusco told the Sun Sentinel it doesn’t matter whether Myrick actually did the research herself.

“You don’t need to have Facebook to sit with someone and give them the names to look at,” she said.

Lawyers for GrayRobinson defended the use of the Facebook pictures during arbitration, saying they were publicly available and provided evidence that teachers could return to school.

“If individuals on remote assignment can go to a Biden rally or to Animal Kingdom or to a luncheon, they can safely return to in-person teaching,” lawyer Stephanie Marchman argued during litigation.

The Broward Teachers Union alleges that Broward Schools General Counsel Barbara Myrick authorized "spying" on teachers.

The Broward Teachers Union alleges that Broward Schools General Counsel Barbara Myrick authorized “spying” on teachers. (BECON/Screen shot)

The arbitrator ruled that the district can order teachers back to the classroom but must provide data to the union showing that the decision was not arbitrary and capricious.

Fusco said she hasn’t heard back from the district. The letter says the union is also exploring “other avenues,” which Fusco described as legal action.

“It speaks volumes that your General Counsel would shepherd such unconscionable behavior,” Fusco wrote. “The BTU workforce is shocked that you would allow this to happen. How can educators trust their employer anymore?”