SWARTZ CREEK, Mich. – How much do teachers unions care about the safety and welfare of children?

theotherlaborhistory_leftConsider the case of Mary Ruth Clark, a longtime teacher and counselor in Michigan’s Swartz Creek school district. In 2011 a judge ruled that Clark must be allowed to return to work as an elementary school counselor, despite deep concerns among school administrators regarding her mental health.

Clark was put on paid leave by the district during the 2006-07 school year due to what officials described as erratic and worrisome behavior. She underwent several psychiatric exams over the next few years.

One psychiatrist wrote “the patient seems very paranoid. She was also very tangential and rambling in her thought process and paranoid in her thought content. I do not believe she should return to work at this time as a counselor.”

A psychologist wrote that Clark should only be allowed to return to work if “she becomes involved in individual psychotherapy on a weekly basis. She should continue in psychotherapy until the treating therapist releases her from treatment. In addition, a referral for a full neuropsychological workup to rule out possible underlying brain dysfunction should be considered.”

Clark never sought or received such treatment, according to the law firm representing the school district.

Clark was eventually placed on involuntary leave without pay. She was told she could return to work with a clearance note from a mental health professional, which she failed to produce, according to the law firm.

In 2008 Clark asked the Michigan Tenure Commission to force the school district to make a choice – fire her or reinstate her without further conditions. The school board, fearing for the safety of students and staff members, chose to pursue termination of her employment.

At a subsequent hearing, the Tenure Commission ruled that the school district had sufficient grounds for termination. But the commission also noted that the district lacked updated information regarding Clark’s mental health, so it ordered her reinstatement.

The district resisted that order for several years. That’s when the union got involved.

The Michigan Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, filed a lawsuit on Clark’s behalf, trying to force the district to put her back to work. A judge agreed with the union and ordered Clark to be reinstated in May of 2011.

School officials kept Clark out of school due to documented concerns about her mental health and the safety of students. The MEA apparently gave those considerations little or no thought when it filed its lawsuit.

That’s how much teachers unions care about the safety and welfare of children.

To read more installments of “The Other Labor History: What Kids Won’t Learn,” click here.

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