A teachers' union representing thousands of Fairfax County Public School teachers says its members are afraid to offer input or speak out about classroom or curriculum changes.
But intimidation and bullying of teachers at certain schools from FCPS administrators are not new issues, the union says.
Stephen Greenburg, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, said the climate in schools across the county has been deteriorating for a decade, and despite several attempts to create an ongoing dialogue about the issue, it hasn't improved.
"Many teachers in this system are afraid to speak out for fear of retribution. Whether their fears are founded in reality or simply perceived, the fact they feel that way is not healthy," Greenburg said in a speech to school board members Thursday night, adding "the attitude of 'keep quiet and do your job, unless you want me to find someone else to do it in your place' must end."
The issue also came to light at a school board candidates' forum last Saturday, during which School Board Member Dan Storck said his wife, employed by FCPS, doesn't feel comfortable giving input in her environment, according to Greenburg and parents at the forum.
"This dynamic is real, and it's out there," Greenburg said.
Greenburg said the recent promotion of Phyllis Pajardo to Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources is "a good first step in eliminating this culture of intimidation, one that had been established by her predecessor," and his members have already seen positive changes in how the department handles employee issues.
"She is fair and consistent so far, and her approach is much appreciated," Greenburg said. "She is the kind of person that can change [this culture]."
The issue plays into a long-standing request from FCFT and the county's other teachers union, Fairfax Education Association, for more communication with the board and a consistent, open, ongoing avenue for dialogue.
In January, Greenburg and FEA President Michael Hairston told the board teachers were overloaded, overworked and burdened by administrative and technology demands in their classrooms, saying "morale is at an all-time low."
At that meeting, during which the board approved student achievement goals for math, science and technology,Greenburg told the board that a key piece of data — teacher input — was missing from the goals. The goals did not include any current information about the success or downfalls of instruction and curriculum in the classroom, he said.
Since then, the unions have asked for dedicated monthly meetings with a committee of school board members, similar to how the board meets with other groups and advisory councils.
While Superintendent Jack Dale has since invited the board chair to sit in on his meetings with the unions, Greenburg said, a way for the unions to consistently communicate directly with the board has yet to be established.
Such a meeting could help school board members ask for teacher input, and also allow the unions to bring teacher issues forward — in theory, Greenburg said, addressing the 'climate of intimidation' before it escalated to the atmosphere that exists today.