Healdsburg teacher files labor complaint against school district after being placed on leave

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The Healdsburg teachers union has filed an unfair labor practice charge against the school district on behalf of a popular math teacher who was placed on paid administrative leave last month.

The labor complaint filed Wednesday with the California Public Employment Relations Board argues the school district retaliated against Healdsburg Junior High math teacher Greg Costa for allegedly criticizing the administration — a claim the Healdsburg Unified School District disputes.

Greg Costa, a math teacher at Healdsburg Junior High School, aired his grievances at Wednesday’s school board meeting, which was packed with colleagues, family, friends and students — some who walked out of school Monday to protest the district’s decision to place Costa on leave after he spoke critically of the administration to students during class.

“I don’t think we need ‘world class,’ I think we need people with class,” he said through comments read by his wife after he spoke past his allocated three minutes.

Costa, who has worked 31 years in the district, is one of six veteran employees who planned to retire at the end of the school year after accepting a cash incentive for retirement.

“The district and I respect our employees’ right to express themselves and their opinions regarding district operations, as well as engage in protected union activities, yet that right does not lawfully include the use of student instructional time for such purposes,” Superintendent Chris Vanden Heuvel wrote in a Wednesday letter to Ever Flores-Deras, president of the Healdsburg Area Teachers Association.

Vanden Heuvel in an email said the complaint filed by the union provides only one side of the story, and that he is unable to share the district’s side because of confidentiality rules around personnel.

“The complainant can make one-sided allegations, which we dispute, but we will honor the law and keep our analysis confidential,” he said.

However, Maddy Hirshfield, political director of the North Bay Labor Council, said during the Wednesday meeting that she supports Costa and the teachers union.

“Putting Mr. Costa on administrative leave was a clear labor violation — without talking to him first,” Hirshfield said.

Sofia Villa, a student of Costa’s who helped organized Monday’s walkout, said her feet were blistered after protesting five hours that day for her favorite teacher.

“As long as this is a problem, it’s not just going to be the parents and adults on your back, but there’s going to be an army of 11- to 14-year-olds,” Villa said. “We all want Mr. Costa back in the classroom. We have three weeks of school left.”

You can reach Staff Writer Susan Minichiello at 707-521-5216 or susan.minichiello@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @susanmini.

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