West Contra Costa Unified School District under fire for ‘accidentally’ firing teachers

Three months after the West Contra Costa Unified School District school board’s decision not laying off any employeesTwo union leaders for the district’s adult education teachers were suddenly — and, it turns out to be a mistake — let go.

But what district officials are chalking up as a “mistake” has turned to union-busting and harassment allegations after talks over working conditions.

Ken Ryan and Kristen Pursley, president and vice president of the Adult School Teachers United Union, have taught English as a second language and citizenship for 28 and 25 years, respectively. He has advocated for years to finalize a contract, secure pay increases and sick leave, expand ESL courses, and more.

When the two head teachers met on June 8 to begin planning for the next school year, a two-paragraph email arrived in their inbox from the director of human resources for certified staff, claiming that the pair had been let go because They were part-time and “temporary,” meaning they could be terminated at any time.

The problem was that they both worked full-time, balancing their part-time teaching schedule with union responsibilities. After a second email it acknowledged that he was not part-time, but still claimed that he had been fired.

It was not until Superintendent Chris Hurst emailed Persley and Ryan three days later that both were told the notice was a clerical error and was reversed.

Ryan, 66, and Pursley, 71, felt relieved after retaining their jobs, saying they were given no explanation as to how the mess happened or why only those teachers were affected.

“It looks like what they really wanted was to get rid of us, and they thought it was a way to do that,” Pursley said. “I don’t mean to jump to conclusions, but it doesn’t make sense to me that it was a mistake, when they so carefully made it twice.”

District communications manager Rachel Forrest said the district “takes this issue very seriously” but would not comment on what happened next, as “the matter is under investigation at the direct request of the two teachers affected.”

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