The head of the city’s teachers’ union John McEntee, Jr. has been cleared of tenure charges that led to his suspension, according to a decision issued by an arbitrator on Tuesday. In his decision, arbitrator James Mastriani, wrote the contentious exchange between McEntee and Sharon Davis, vice principal of School 4, did not warrant unpaid suspension.
Mastriani’s decision was welcomed by both the Paterson Education Association (PEA) and the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA).
“I am pleased that the arbitrator found that my comments and actions towards Ms. Davis in this meeting occurred under the umbrella of protected activity as union president and were not insubordinate, threatening, nor harassing in nature,” said McEntee. “I hope my exoneration will be viewed as evidence that PEA members and building representatives never should be afraid of standing up to those in authority and fight for our rights under the contract.”
The tenure charges against McEntee stemmed from an unscheduled four-minute meeting between McEntee and Davis. McEntee visited the school accompanied by his first vice president Charles Ferrer, Sr. and an attorney Sasha Wolf.
McEntee had in hand an email Davis sent to a union member that contained a confidently statement. The confidentiality statement was a possible contract violation, according to the union.
“Are you familiar with the confidentiality law?” asked McEntee.
“Why are you asking me if you already know the answer?” replied Davis. She also told him she had to have principal Marc Medley present if the impromptu meeting was about a grievance.
The encounter grew intense with both raising their voices. Wolf, who was inside the vice principal’s office but remained quiet, described the interaction as a “very heated exchange,” in his testimony to the arbitrator.
Davis claimed McEntee’s yelling and hand gesturing made her feel threatened. She told him, “We’re done. I’m going to ask you to leave my office and to leave the building.” McEntee’s side argued he usually speaks by gesturing with his hands.
The vice principal was having a meeting with Irene DelRosso, supervisor for federal programs, on that Dec. 19, 2016, when she allowed union officials to enter her office. She testified that Davis was “cornered” by McEntee.
“She was cornered in a way that if he continued to get close to her, I don’t know what he was thinking and I was afraid he might hit her and hurt her. There was no other way for her to get out. He was blocking the only way out,” testified DelRosso.
Mastriani was not convinced Davis was cornered and prevented from leaving the office. He did not find “sufficient evidence” to support Davis’ story that McEntee “deliberately moved in a fashion that prevented her from leaving the office.”
McEntee protested Davis’ calls for his ejection, according to her account. She then called security to remove him from the office. Both Wolf and McEntee voluntarily began leaving the office when she called security.
A surveillance camera recorded the men’s every move except for their interaction with the vice principal inside her office. As he exited the office, McEntee is observed puckering his lips to blow a kiss at Davis.
DelRosso observed the alleged kiss, but did not include this in her initial account of the incident. A video shows McEntee blowing a kiss. However, his side maintained, McEntee was, getting in the “the last word.”
Davis alleged McEntee turned red from yelling. He was also rowdy and yelling in the hallway before passing teachers and students, she alleged. The district’s own footage of McEntee in the hallway contradicted Davis’ account.
The footage showed a security guard’s arrival to Davis’ office. The security guard never escorted the union officials out of the building. McEntee was accused by the district of falsely stating on social media postings that he was “forcibly ejected” from the building. His side defined the forcible removal as “we did not have a choice to remain.”
‘Erosion of order’
The arbitrator concluded McEntee’s conduct caused the “erosion of order” inside the office. He concluded the conduct warranted “disciplinary action of a corrective nature,” but “to serve an unpaid suspension” term was “beyond the level of the conduct that it has proven.”
McEntee was placed on unpaid leave from Mar. 30 through Sept. 1, 2017. He remained suspended after Sept. 1, but was put back on the payroll. His salary is $68,500. With the case decided in McEntee’s favor, the district has to provide him back-pay for 120 days he went unpaid.
It’s not clear how much the district owes him for that time period.
McEntee has enjoyed the support of teachers. Many protested the district’s decision to bring charges against their president. He has argued former state-appointed district superintendent Donnie Evans was retaliating against him for his intense criticism of the administration.
Evans retired in June after the state decided not to renew his contract. Davis left for Hoboken soon after the incident. In the 38-page decision, there is mention that McEntee contacted president of the Hoboken teachers’ union to tell them “what they were in for” with the hiring of Davis.
McEntee became president in 2015 and was re-elected by the members. He also received support from the state teachers’ union.
‘Standing on Principle’
Marie Blistan, president of the New Jersey Education Association, applauded McEntee for “standing up and winning” this case.
“John’s fight wasn’t just for himself. It was for the right of every union leader to be a fearless advocate even in the face of hostility. It took courage and determination to keep fighting with so much on the line for him personally,” said Blistan. “By refusing to settle and instead standing on principle, John helped ensure that other union leaders can do their jobs as well. John and every PEA member deserve to celebrate this win, and we celebrate with them.”
McEntee said the arbitrator’s decision is a victory against the nation-wide crusade some have been undertaking “to erode our country’s unions.”