By Jim Vail
Teaching science can bring a world of joy to the children in a classroom filled with wonderful experiments.
Students are crossing a dinosaur trail of fossils, working on a home made wind tunnel to measure the differences in air pressure or constructing a mouse trap to illustrate Newton's law of force.
This was the world of Jan Peczkis, a veteran science teacher who specializes in biology and geology and has a masters in earth science. He is a walking scientist in a lab coat who loves children and was a regular teacher at Budlong Elementary school for almost ten years.
Until he was told there was no more funding at his school and he was forced to do substitute teaching eight years ago.
Then just over a year ago, Chicago Public Schools fired him for sleeping in the classroom.
It turns out that the budding science teacher, who had subbed over 400 times at 50 different schools, was just afterwards diagnosed with sleep apnea, a night time breathing disorder that can cause one to fall asleep during the daytime at inappropriate times.
Mr. Peczkis successfully underwent therapy to address this problem and he passed the rigorous test called Maintenance of Wakefulness, which is the same test given to professional drivers and pilots.
Despite this fact, the CPS refuses to take him off the infamous Do Not Hire or DNH list after he just recently appealed his case.
Had Mr. Peczkis been a full time teacher, he would have had certain rights and protections at the time of his firing. But being a substitute "at will" employee, his firing and refusal to be considered for rehire was made all the easier.
"Subs have no rights," Mr. Peczkis told Second City Teachers recently. "I've been a sub at will and I can't file a grievance."
It is important to note that during these dark times of fear and manipulation, substitute teachers have to be especially careful when subbing. There are informers everywhere, and it seems, the more who go down, the better the numbers to show their masters.
Peczkis said one time he was accused of taking food from a student, a charge CPS later determined had no merit, but when one has no rights, can also result in an easy termination on the spot.
"My computations on the attached spreadsheet (CPS sent in response to a Freedom of Information request), show that 60% of all complaints end in their firing and DNH designation," Peczkis wrote in an email.
This energetic educator has that rare combination of an academic mad scientist (he also does some research at Northeastern University) who loves working with children. He sets up wacky and wonderful experiments and is a super story teller. Unfortunately, somebody this good is also a victim in a heartless system due to no fault of his own.
"All of this really breaks my heart," he said. "I have to live with this everyday. It's made me depressed."
In the current union contract, there is a discipline code for firing teachers. A teacher has to be written up at least 3 times for violating the same infraction before he or she is terminated. It is a process of fairness to prevent principals from arbitrarily firing employees due to political or personal reasons.
In a profession in which many veteran teachers are not able to find jobs because of their age, this is very important.
In the specific case of Mr. Peczkis, his sleep apnea disability can only be a basis for a complaint if he had told his employer and no accommodations were made, he said. However, if the disability is found after termination, the employer is off the hook, he said.
One lawyer said he may have a discrimination case, Peczkis said.
This makes the wonderful science lab teacher who continues to substitute teach (and tutor) determined to try to win his job back, and get removed from the do not hire list.
He plans to address his case to the board of education and continue to plead to anyone that people like him should be in the classroom working with children, and not labeled unfit to teach, especially when the cause was unknown at the time and has since been rectified.
|INVESTIGATORY CONFERENCES FOR SUBSTITUTE TEACHERS ON ALLEGATIONS OF MISCONDUCT JULY 2005 - DECEMBER 2013|
|Resignation in lieu of discipline/DNH||14|
blacklisting, sleeping on the job, gotcha workplace environment, SDB (sleep disordered breathing), employment law, FOIA (Freedom of Information Act), Chicago ENT, do not rehire, CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure), labor practices, MWK (Maintenance of Wakefulness) test, obstructive sleep apnea, blacklisted.