“For 20 years, she’s been standing up for you. For 20 years, she’s been fighting for you… Recently, something’s changed. The one thing that’s changed is your superintendent. Over the last year and a half he’s bullied her and he’s bullied you.“
Larry Purtill, President of the the National Education Association Rhode Island (NEARI) was standing in the bed of a pickup truck with a megaphone, his Boston Red Sox mask pulled down. He was addressing the drivers of the over 100 cars that had gathered in the parking lot of the Portsmouth Middle School to begin a car rally in support of NEA Tiverton President Amy Mullen, who the union claims was recently and illegally fired from her job as a special education teacher, a job she’s had for 25 years The union claims Mullen was fired due to her union advocacy, not because of any deficiencies in her teaching.
“We’re doing it in Portsmouth today because we’re doing this for Amy, your local president!” said Purtill. “For 20 years, she’s been standing up for you. For 20 years, she’s been fighting for you… Recently, something’s changed. The one thing that’s changed is your superintendent. Over the last year and a half he’s bullied her and he’s bullied you.”
Superintendent Peter Sanchioni, through Stephen Robinson, a lawyer for the Tiverton School District, says that Mullen was terminated from her job, “due solely to the latest in a series of incidents where she has engaged in unprofessional and disruptive behavior. Rather than collaborate as a role model and problem solver during a time of pandemic she has chosen to continue her pattern of being divisive and obstructive.”
Purtill ascribes darker motives to Sanchioni, claiming that teachers were bullied by the Superintendent when he served in a similar capacity in Natick, Connecticut. “He likes to bully people who stand up to him,” said Purtill. “And he likes to say, ‘Hey, change your view, change your opinion, or we’ll fire you… The other thing [about the people Sanchioni allegedly bullied] is they all seem to be women! … He seems to have a problem with strong women who stand up to him.”
In a press statement, NEARI writes, in part:
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“…when [Mullen] learned Superintendent Sanchioni was moving forward with a distance-learning plan without input from teachers, she asked if they could discuss the plan.
“Amy offered no hardline union negotiations. No hold up of distance learning. She asked a question. And she was terminated for it.
“Instead of working collaboratively within the framework of the collective bargaining agreement – which the Superintendent has failed to do on multiple occasions – Sanchioni and the Tiverton School Committee chose to silence Amy and prohibit her from speaking to her members, parents and students. In so doing, they violated her First Amendment rights and opened themselves up to personal liability in addition to their official capacity.
“Peter Sanchioni, aided and abetted by the Tiverton School Committee, is a bully and long ago proved himself a union obstructionist in his negotiation tactics and refusal to bargain or allow Amy to attend to her duties. They have demonstrated a clear disdain for the union and union activities and have set out repeatedly and with animus to diminish a local union president – just dig through the grievances and unfair labor practices that have piled up since Sanchioni has been in town.
“In fact, First Amendment violations are nothing new for Peter Sanchioni – they cost the Town of Natick, MA $70,000.
“Amy was not fired for any reason having to do with her job performance as a teacher. I have no doubt Amy will prevail in her suit and she has the full support of the entire labor movement across the State of Rhode Island.”
The cars left the Portsmouth Middle School and drove by Mullen’s home in Portsmouth as a gesture of support. More information can be found at BringBackAmy.org.