A Change in Tune

Grievance hearing strikes a chord with school board, results in win for many

By her own estimation, Angela Wright has met with hundreds of parents over her more than two decades as a teacher in Nebraska.

Wright is a member of the Kearney Education Association (KEA) and teaches kindergarten through fifth-grade music at Kearney Public Schools' Meadowlark Elementary. Wright considers parent-teacher conferences to be a vital part of the educational process.   

“I personally value parent-teacher conferences and feel they’re an important piece to education,” Wright said. “Teaching is a partnership. I can do only so much within my classroom. It takes parental support from home. Parents play a very important role. They're my students’ first teachers, so we need to be partners in learning.”

In the fall of 2022, district officials decided to set universal dates for parent-teacher conferences throughout the district. This included moving the last night of conferences to the Wednesday workday that led into a four-day weekend.  Prior to the change, parent-teacher conference dates were set by each principal.

To accommodate some of the scheduling conflicts created by the district-set dates that fall, teachers who had already made  plans after the workday on the last night of the conference in November were given a time frame in which to notify Human Resources and reschedule..

“For those first fall conferences, I didn’t have any conflicts, but I knew of teachers who were given the opportunity to reschedule with their students' parents because they had made plans before the district dates were set,” Wright said.

That same fall, the district also set spring parent-teacher conference dates of Feb. 8, 13 and 15. Wright planned accordingly and scheduled an out-of-state trip to begin the weekend following the spring parent-teacher conferences.  

Midwest Mess

The only thing predictable about spring in the Midwest is that the weather will be unpredictable. An entire genre of memes poke fun at these weather patterns to include charming terms like Fool’s Spring, Second Winter, and Spring of Deception.

Wright found herself in a not-so-funny Spring of Deception predicament when, on Valentine's Day, a forecasted weather event prompted the district to postpone the final day of parent-teacher conferences and reschedule it for a day that Wright had received approved leave for her out-of-state trip. To add insult to injury, the snow was a no-show for its forecasted time of arrival.  

“When they canceled the conferences, Kearney was in a Winter Storm Advisory. But the snow didn't show up until 9 p.m. The conferences would have been over by 9 p.m.”

Wright had already contacted the district to discuss her conflict by email and then by phone.

“When I reached our HR director on the phone, I was informed that I would not be given the opportunity to reschedule. My next call was to NSEA,” Wright said.  

Follow the Contract

For Wright, the issue wasn't the snow, the conferences, or that she would need to use half a personal day—it was about fairness.

“The district canceled with less than 24 hours’ notice and rescheduled the date within a week.  I couldn't cancel my reservations without losing my money. And it seemed unfair that I wouldn’t be given the same opportunity to reschedule as the teachers who had conflicts in the fall when they had nearly a month to figure out what they were going to do with their plans,” she said. “It wasn’t only me. There were lots of teachers who now had conflicts.”

Wright said some of her colleagues were just as upset with the district’s decision to reschedule but worried about being new to the district and their tenure. Others told Wright they would just take the days or lose a few hours of wages instead of fighting.

“Maybe they felt it was a little thing to be filing a grievance for, but I felt like I needed to stand up for my rights. It was the principle of the matter and the lack of respect,” Wright said.

Wright worked with NSEA Organizational Specialist Kristen Sedlacek, who advised her on the next steps. Together they followed the grievance process outlined in the KEA-KPS Negotiated Agreement.

“The first step was to meet with my principal, though I knew he had no say in the decision—but it’s important to follow the grievance process as it is set up.”  

Support at Every Step

Wright’s grievance was eventually scheduled to be heard by the school board which she chose to make public.

“Through the process, I ran all communications, including emails and even my statement to the board, through Kristen and NSEA,” Wright said. “I appreciate that we have a process we can go through within our district so these types of issues can be addressed in a safe place for teachers. I also truly appreciate having NSEA on my side. Kristen was there to help  - she walked side by side with me through the whole thing.”

A Change in Tune

Wright and many of her colleagues, along with Sedlacek, attended the April 18 school board hearing on the grievance. In her statement, Wright wrote, “In all my years working for this district, I have never been so disappointed and discouraged. I was not treated equally to my colleagues who had conflicts when the change was made in November and who were given the opportunity to reschedule…The decision, along with the rejection of every solution I offered, makes me question the [district’s] commitment to teacher retention when small decisions could make such a huge positive impact on morale.”

After follow-up questions from school board members and an hour of deliberation, board members ruled in Wright’s favor.

“I felt good about their decision. I just wanted to be treated fairly and equally to my fellow coworkers,” said Wright.

Following the board’s decision, the human resource director reversed her decision for other teachers in the district, returning either time or pay to the teachers.

“When we were done with the process, I was very glad that I followed through,” said Wright. “I've been an NSEA member since I was in college and this experience has made my dues worth it.”

NSEA is ready and able to help members. Whether you have a concern or question, are pursuing change, speaking at a school board meeting, seeking increased funding, or advocating for education with state elected officials, NSEA is here to support you and your students. Start by contacting your NSEA Organizational Specialist at 1-800-742-0047 or 402-475-7611.