SHIPROCK — Central Consolidated School District employees are scared.
Time and again, district employees have voiced their concerns about the repercussions for doing exactly that – voicing their concerns.
Only recently have they begun to do so in public hearings and general meetings. Several employees expressed their opposition to some of the district's decisions, namely those having to do with its controversial budget.
"We're Americans. We don't give up our First Amendment rights just because we're employees of CCSD," said Mel Sharp, president of the district teachers union.
Those who spoke up, however, are saying they are being punished after taking a turn at the microphone. District officials disagree.
"We don't investigate anybody for making public statements," said James Preminger, spokesman for the district. "People have a right to free speech."
He said that other matters might lead to the investigation of employees, though he cannot discuss personnel matters because of district policy.
But Sharp said he knows of three individuals who were being investigated after they spoke at a public hearing last month about the budget.
"I learned at a meeting that teachers who were making public statements were being investigated," he said. That meeting, he said, was with the district human resources director, George Schumpelt, and it focused on the investigation of a district employee.
Barbara Hayes, a business teacher from Shiprock High School, said she had her own meeting with Schumpelt Tuesday morning to discuss an investigation she did not even know was going on. The investigation was because she questioned why the district was deciding to transfer her to Newcomb High School, about 40 minutes south of where she worked this year, she said.
"They're just doing what they want to do," said Hayes, who has worked at Shiprock High School for 11 years.
Hayes also publicly announced at Shiprock High School's graduation ceremony that she was being transferred and that she felt it was an act of retaliation.
During the meeting, she was told that her comments at graduation were an issue, and that she had made personal attacks against the Shiprock High School principal, Rick Edwards, at a district teachers union meeting and at the recent public hearing, which she denies.
Nonetheless, district officials deny they are retaliating against employees.
"I don't know or care who's calling or whatever, but no one's being investigated for making public statements," Preminger said.