Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

July 20, 2013

School officials won't appeal state ruling to rehire fired teacher

By Sonya Vartabedian
svartabedian@andovertownsman.com

---- — ANDOVER — The School Committee voted Friday not to appeal this month's ruling by the Massachusetts Employment Relations Board ordering the town to reinstate fired Andover High School English teacher Jen Meagher.

The vote followed an executive, or closed-door, session of the committee. Chairman Dennis Forgue declined to provide any specifics, saying the School Department will be issuing a press release on the matter with more detail this week.

The decision ends a more than year-long battle between Meagher and the Andover schools and means the July 2 ruling by the Employment Relations Board will stand. In addition to overturning her firing last September, the board ruled Meagher is entitled to her back pay with interest.

Under the ruling, school officials must also post a public notice announcing they will not retaliate against Meagher for “engaging in concerted, protected activities” and that they won’t “interfere with, restrain and coerce any employees in the exercise of their rights guaranteed under the law.”

Meagher, who learned of the decision this afternoon from a Townsman reporter, called the news "a huge relief."

"It's been a very hard war for sure," she said.

She defended her June 2012 decision in the midst of contentious contract negotiations to send an email to high school faculty encouraging them to hold back on a key piece of the school's reaccreditation process in an effort to create leverage in the bargaining talks.

The former Andover Educators Association vice president and chairwoman of the union's Action Committee said she was merely following what had been accepted practice, which had never previously been challenged by school officials.

The state board agreed, saying her actions were protected union activity and that the School Committee “discriminated against Meagher based on her union activity in violation of (state law).”

School officials had 30 days from the July 2 ruling to decide whether to take the case to the appellate court.

Whether Meagher will ultimately return to her Andover High classroom is still unclear. She said it will come down to what's best for her and her family, which includes two children, ages 11 and 15.

She acknowledged that there are challenges with whatever decision she makes.

"I will say that it will be difficult to find a job in another district given what's happened," she said. "There's a lot of press online. ... Understandably, administrators shy away from that. Do they want to risk hiring this teacher that had all this conflict surrounding her? I don't know exactly what my choices will be."

For more on Jen Meagher's reinstatement, see next week's Andover Townsman.