November 20, 2006

Canisius High Sued By Teacher Over Tenure

By Anthony Cardinale, The Buffalo News, N.Y.

Nov. 20--A fifth-year math teacher has filed suit against Canisius High School for denying her tenure despite a glowing recommendation from her principal.

Maria D. Baldwin's department chairman praised her as 'an essential part of the mathematics department,' but she still was denied tenure by the Rev. James P. Higgins, president of the all-boys high school at 1180 Delaware Ave.

The suit, originally filed in State Supreme Court, charges Higgins retaliated against Baldwin for her activities as a member of the Faculty Senate. Baldwin recorded the minutes of a controversial meeting of the Faculty Senate on May 25, 2005.

Her 19-page transcript of the taped meeting was the basis of a story in The Buffalo News on Sept. 23, 2005, revealing that she and 16 other faculty members had spoken up to Higgins about the termination of seven teachers and their fears that more departures would follow.

Since then, Canisius High School has had a turnover of 13 more teachers, for a total of 20 in the past two years, or nearly one-third of its faculty. Most of those remaining are untenured.

The suit, filed by attorney Michael J. Flaherty, is separate from one he filed a year ago on behalf of four teachers who were denied tenure. Action is pending on that suit. Contacted by The News, Higgins relayed all questions to attorney Linda H. Joseph. Joseph said she has moved to have the case transferred to U.S. District Court, where federal questions can be addressed.

In her answering papers, Joseph said that Baldwin 'was denied tenure on the basis of legitimate non-discriminatory reasons' and 'not in retaliation for Mrs. Baldwin's activities as a faculty senator.' Joseph added, however, that activities as a faculty senator are not protected under the National Labor Relations Act.

Principal Frank D. Tudini wrote Higgins on April 28 that he was 'pleased to recommend, without reservation' that Baldwin be granted tenure.

'She was a superlative math teacher,' says Tudini, who has since retired. 'Her AP student scores were off the charts, they were unprecedented.' Baldwin's Advanced Placement students, working for college credit, averaged 4.67 out of 5 points, according to school records.

The math department chairman, Robert P. Krum, a 24-year veteran at Canisius High School, praised Baldwin for 'demonstrating flexibility by teaching both ends of the math spectrum: Algebra I to AP Calculus.' She also taught Algebra 2, Trigonometry and Calculus, according to court papers.

'On Friday, May 12, 2006, President Higgins summoned Mrs. Baldwin to his office for a late-afternoon meeting,' her suit states. 'At that meeting, he decreed that she would not receive tenure.'

Higgins explained that, despite the glowing recommendations, his decision was 'based upon the need of Mrs. Baldwin to learn to finesse conversations with certain parents, certain board members and certain faculty,' according to the suit, which contends these were not permissible reasons for denial of tenure.

When asked for clarification, Higgins wrote Baldwin on June 1 he was 'concerned about [her] interpersonal interactions with members of the Canisius High School community.' Baldwin, who now teaches at Tapestry Charter School, says she concluded she was being punished for being outspoken at Faculty Senate meetings. Asked what she considered the chief grounds for denial of tenure, Joseph said, 'This was done for the full benefit of the students.' She said the details would come out in court.


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