No good deed goes unpunished, or at least that’s what officials at the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana (A+PEL) found when they tried to send early Christmas presents to teachers in Vermilion Parish Schools this week.
In the wake of catastrophic flooding in August, A+PEL raised over $220,000 for their Disaster Relief Fund to help educators rebuild. Over the past several months, the organization has sent hundreds of checks to teachers (members and non-members alike) and schools in impacted districts, including Vermilion Parish.
When A+PEL officials found they had disaster relief funds left over, they decided to send a second, surprise check to each educator who had requested assistance. But after they began mailing the checks this week, the organization learned that at least one school in Vermilion Parish – Kaplan Elementary – intercepted them and threw them away. As it turns out, the school’s secretary put the letters in the trash simply because she saw A+PEL’s logo on the envelopes.
A+PEL executive director Keith Courville says this isn’t the first time his group’s communications to Vermilion teachers failed to reach their intended recipients. In fact, when he tried to email Kaplan’s principal about the checks, he discovered that Vermilion Parish Schools blocks messages from A+PEL email accounts.
What’s Vermilion’s beef with A+PEL? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Vermilion Parish is one of a handful of school districts in Louisiana with a collective bargaining agreement. In August 1988, the Vermilion Association of Educators – a local affiliate of the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) – went on strike, bringing things in the district to a halt for 11 days. The school board eventually caved, agreed to a contract, and ever since LAE has held considerable sway over affairs in the school system.1
A+PEL, on the other hand, was formed nearly 40 years ago when a group of disgruntled LAE members broke away from the union in Bossier Parish. It has since positioned itself as an alternative professional organization for teachers, providing professional development and other supports for educators without any of the messy political entanglements that come with unions. Thus, LAE and their counterparts at the Louisiana Federation of Teachers view A+PEL as competition.
In any case, the incident at Kaplan Elementary raises two important issues: Why are Vermilion Parish Schools employees trying to filter out A+PEL communications to teachers and why are district policies (whether formal or informal) being used to protect the power of the local teachers unions? The district owes both A+PEL and the Vermilion teachers it tried to help answers to these questions.
- N.B.: LAE president Debbie Meaux is from Vermilion Parish and is the former head of the Vermilion Association of Educators. ↩