California Educator

October/November 2019

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"It was pretty dramatic — a big slap in the face. But BTA and CTA were with me every step of the way." —Manolo Lopez A Fighter Wins Educator, with union support, clears his name after five years By Julian Peeples N E A R L Y E V E R Y O N E W A S telling Manolo Lopez to settle, including a judge and his own attorney. But the 15-year Bur- bank High School auto shop teacher who became the target of a bullying principal says one supportive voice kept telling him to continue the fight to clear his name: CTA. And after the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) accepted an administrative law judge's recommendation in June, Lopez retained his teaching credential, turning the page on a difficult five-year chapter in Lopez's life. "ere is definitely closure. ere's a lot of satisfaction and vindication," Lopez says. "I feel very good about how CTA helped me, sending their attorneys and sticking with me until the end. From the beginning, Burbank Teachers Association was very supportive." The trouble started in 2014 when Lopez and his stu- dents were cleaning out the auto shop work area. Early on in the cleaning effort, the new principal walked in and angrily declared that the shop was "messy." This was just th e b eginnin g of probl ems b etwe en th e princip al and Lopez, which culminated with the district accusing the dedicated educator of theft. As in many high schools that have auto shop programs, there was a long-standing system in place at Burbank High where district employees could utilize the shop to have repairs and maintenance performed on their vehicles. Lopez, like his predecessors, would purchase parts through a school district account, fix the car, and then bill the employee to recoup the funds. Lopez had gotten behind on the billing in 2014 when his family had health issues, but was in the process of getting caught up when the district accused him of theft. "It was pretty dramatic — a big slap in the face," says Lopez. "But BTA and CTA were with me every step of the way." Of ficials ran with the allegations, calling police and asking for a criminal investigation. But police said Lopez had not committed a crime and declined to intervene. While this would have been a good time for school district managers to back off, they instead doubled down on their egregious behavior. Arleigh Kidd, who was Lopez's primary contact staff at the time, says it became clear the district would not stop trying to fire Lopez, so he filed a CTA Group Legal Services (GLS) referral. Proving Kidd's suspicion true, district managers shortly thereafter illegally inserted a con- ference summary into Lopez's personnel file without the knowledge of either Lopez or Kidd. When Kidd filed a grievance to have it removed, the dis- trict agreed and settled the grievance. But the summary raised its ugly head again a short time later when Burbank Unified used it in a complaint to the CTC attempting to have Lopez's credential stripped. "I never expected anything like that happening to me. All my reviews had always been positive," Lopez says. "I really loved teaching, so it was quite a shock." Eventually, the district settled with Lopez, compensating him for his losses and damages, and he resigned from Bur- bank Unified. e principal and district managers continued efforts to strip him of his credential. He was tired from all 54 CTA & You

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