Town settles with teacher fired after son's illness

Courtesy photoJacquelyn Silvani, a former Andover teacher, was fired after an extended leave to care for her son, Joseph, when he was diagnosed with cancer. Here, she and her son are seen when he was a toddler undergoing treatment. 

A former Andover teacher who was fired after taking a year off to care for her 3-year-old son while he underwent cancer treatment cannot talk about the terms of a settlement with Andover Public Schools, she said.

Jacquelyn Silvani went to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination in April 2017, claiming she was discriminated against on the basis of “disability by association,” according to a redacted version of her complaint provided to The Eagle-Tribune by the commission.

After reviewing Sivani’s complaint and responses from Andover school officials, MCAD Investigating Commissioner Sheila Hubbard wrote to both parties April 30, 2018 to say there was “probable cause to credit the allegations.”

Before the commission invoked its power to penalize the school district, Silvani dropped the complaint because a settlement had been reached.

Silvani, who now works for another school district, would not elaborate on her settlement with Andover.

In 2018, she openly shared her story with the newspaper. Her son had stage IV neuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer that affects children and usually starts in the kidneys and spreads to the rest of the body. Silvani said her son is doing well now.

She explained that his medical bills cost the district $1,091,794 before her position was terminated, according to a claim summary from Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

She said at the time that Andover Public Schools, being privately insured, would have had to foot the entire bill.

“I can only say the matter is resolved,” she told the newspaper this week. She would not say if she signed a non-disclosure agreement.

Andover officials did not immediately respond to a request for a copy of the settlement with Silvani.

Federal officials at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Boston were also made aware of the complaint filed with MCAD.

According to an MCAD spokesperson, if a claim filed with the state group also involves federal protections, the case is shared between offices. In this case, because the school receives federal funding.

When a settlement is reached “outside of our walls,” the spokesperson said, it’s common that the organizations remain unaware of the details.

During her fourth year as a Title One teacher at West Elementary School, Silvani’s son was diagnosed with cancer. She had already signed a contract for the 2015-16 school year in the days before learning of his serious illness.

Despite the contract, she was granted the extended leave from work. She was not ready to talk about returning until March 2016, she said.

At that time, former Principal Liz Rooz warned Silvani that she may lose her job because federal Title One grant funding that backs her salary was possibly being reduced.

“I offered to work part time rather than full time so that the school would be able to afford my wages,” Silvani wrote in her complaint. “However, Roos rejected my suggestion, stating that they would still have to pay me my full wage regardless of hours because it was a contract position.”

In May 2016 Slyvani got a letter from the director of Human Resources, whose name is redacted from her complaint, saying that her contract would not be renewed. She was without a job as of June 30, 2016.

Silvani started applying for other jobs available within Andover Public Schools, including fourth-grade and fifth-grade teaching positions.

“Ultimately, I was not accepted to either position,” she wrote in the complaint.

Another job was posted as the 2016-17 school year was set to begin. Silvani recognized it as the role that was hers, but now as a non-contract, hourly position.

She applied but was not offered an interview, she said.

“I believe I have been terminated because of my association to my disabled son,” Silvani wrote. “I also believe the APS continued to discriminate against me by failing to offer me open positions which I am qualified for.”

In responding to the MCAD investigation, Andover school officials denied discrimination.

School officials said they did not hire Silvani for any of the three jobs she applied because “there were other candidates who were more qualified.”

They said they were generous following the news of Silvani’s son.

“Although the applicable contract granted only five sick days, (the Andover School District) granted (Silvani) two weeks of paid leave through the end of the 2014-15 school year,” the school’s response reads. “....While (Silvani) was out on leave, (Andover Public Schools) helped raise funds in order to help her.”

In a “summary of investigation and analysis,” MCAD said Andover Public Schools provided an undated chart listing the amount of Title One funding for each school year from 2012 through 2018, but failed to provide any evidence of reduced federal funding and its need to eliminate Silvani’s job.

MCAD also found that Andover Public Schools wavered when asked about Silvani’s quality of work. At first, school officials said Silvani’s work was “satisfactory.”

“Later during the Commission’s investigation, however, (Andover Public Schools) claimed (Silvani) performed poorly at her interview for the grade four teaching position, and this poor interview performance ‘together with her track record of teaching’ was why she was not selected for an interview for the subsequent positions.”

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