By Ben Velderman
WEST CHESTER, Pa. – A Pennsylvania teachers union is demanding that a school board member resign her post for expressing anti-union views in a letter to a local newspaper.
Last month, West Chester Area school board member (and longtime union critic) Heidi Adsett exercised her First Amendment rights by submitting a letter to the editor of the Daily Local News.
In her letter, Adsett criticized West Chester Education Association President Debbie Fell for publicly hinting that a teacher strike might be in the works if her union’s pay and benefit demands aren’t met during ongoing contract negotiations.
Adsett thought Fell and her union had gone too far.
“If you don’t think you are fairly compensated by the taxpayers, you are free to take your $106,000 taxpayer-funded compensation package and seek alternative employment,” Adsett wrote. “How dare you threaten students (two of which are my own) and their families because you think you deserve more money/benefits. How dare the union make offensive financial demands of taxpayers who are struggling in this economy.”
Adsett then doubled down on her free speech rights by making a political endorsement.
“I am reminded of why my family will vote to re-elect state Rep. Dan Truitt this coming November,” she wrote. “Rep. Truitt is a co-sponsor of the bill in Harrisburg that would ban teacher strikes. He believes, as I believe, that every child deserves the legal right to receive a strike-free public education. It is a right that 37 other states have guaranteed their students.”
Adsett ended the letter by signing her name and identifying herself as the vice president of the West Chester Area School Board.
That was all it took for WCEA members to flip their lids. In a response that seemed more appropriate for a Middle East country than a small Pennsylvania community, teacher union members filled the next school board meeting to demand Adsett’s resignation.
“Ms. Adsett, your publicly venomous animosity of our teachers and even some of our students does not represent our strong, 40-year tradition of supporting public education in our community,” one critic said, according to a recording of the meeting. “And therefore, I respectfully request that you resign as a member of the West Chester Area School Board.”
The critic left the podium to loud applause.
‘A culture of intimidation’
The union claims that Adsett misled readers into thinking she was speaking on behalf of West Chester’s entire nine-member board, simply by including her board title with her signature.
“Adsett writes letters to the editor using her title, did a robo call in the last election … and clearly is speaking for the board,” complains one resident on a local news blog. “Does the whole damn board agree with her doing this? Shouldn’t the president or superintendent sit this woman down and tell her to stop?”
While it’s a huge stretch to argue that Adsett was speaking for the rest of the board, it’s downright troubling that some union supporters think school board members should forfeit their free speech rights when they take office.
Simon Campbell, president of Stop Teacher Strikes in Pennsylvania, came to Adsett’s defense and said it was the WCEA that’s out-of-bounds.
“Each school board member is an individual in their own right, elected by the public to represent the public,” Campbell said in a video interview with Adsett. “Congressmen and senators are interviewed all the time. None of them say, ‘Well, I want to make it clear that I’m not representing the whole of Congress.’”
Campbell suggested that the union’s trumped-up charge against Adsett is just part of a larger “culture of intimidation” that school employee unions use to punish their critics.
“We have this bullying in school districts, sometimes against teachers (but) quite often against school board directors who get intimidated. You get these mob scenes at school board meetings. It is mind-boggling how the union operates,” Campbell said.
“They’re trying to shut me up and trying to intimidate me because they know my message is right,” she said. “And they don’t want me to get that message out there for people to hear what’s really going on. They can’t argue the facts, so they have to try and argue by bullying and intimidation.”
Adsett has been cleared of any wrongdoing by her board, but that was never the point of WCEA’s criticism. The union just wanted something – anything – to use as a weapon against its toughest board critic.
This silly, union-contrived controversy over a letter to the editor is further proof that teacher unions are still the biggest bullies in our public schools.