The teachers' union in Keene is blaming understaffing and lack of oversight in the district for a major increase in staff injuries. Many of the injuries are in elementary schools, among paraeducators and teachers' aides, but Keene Education Association president William Gillard says the problems extend far beyond programs for students with learning, behavioral and emotional challenges.
Critical inspections by the Department of Labor over the last two years reveal inconsistent application of safety trainings and emergency response teams, complaints of understaffing, and a practice of underreporting injuries.
Gillard says the district is regularly short dozens of paraeducators, which he attributes in part to low pay, lack of benefits, and safety risks. He says understaffing exacerbates the safety issues, and under-reporting means struggling students don't get the help they need.
The Keene Education Association filed a formal complaint with the Public Employee Labor Relations Board last week, which will get a hearing in November, alleging that SAU 29 administrators retaliated against Gillard after he raised concerns about safety.
The district says in raising concerns, Gillard violated student privacy laws, but Gillard says the dispute sets a dangerous precedent.
“We feel it’s sending a message to the rest of the teachers that there’s a potential for them to be disciplined if they bring their safety concerns forward,” he says.
SAU 29 did not respond to a request for comment, but their formal response to the unions’ complaint is expected on Friday.
According to a safety inspection report from the DOL issued earlier this year, the district has implemented some of the DOL's recommendations.
Gillard acknowledges this but says the number of documented injuries doubled last year nonetheless, from 53 in 2017 to 103 in 2018.
"It's not fast enough, and it's not soon enough," he says.
Read the Unfair Labor Practices Complaint filed by the Keene Education Association, NEA-NH below: