In 2013, after 23 years of teaching space science and astronomy, Bill Frye decided to speak out on an important but controversial issue affecting teachers – pension funding. It was stories like Bill’s that led to the creation of Americans for Fair Treatment – an organization devoted to helping to defend teachers who exercise their First Amendment rights.
Bill could see that the unfunded liabilities in the Pennsylvania Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS) were growing faster than state and teacher contributions could keep up, putting teachers and taxpayers at risk. He chose to be courageous and speak out in favor of pension reform by signing his name to an email that was sent to educators statewide.
Bill’s decision to exercise his right to speak out on an important public policy issue led to his principal threatening him that he could lose his job.
His principal and assistant principal asked to meet with him to express their displeasure over the email. They threatened him with a reprimand and said his teaching certificate could be at risk. They said he could bring an advocate to the meeting.
Bill decided to ask the local union president to attend. While she agreed to come to the meeting, she did not take his side. On the contrary, Bill said, she seemed to side with the principal.
“The simple fact is that the union president made no effort to support my position of innocence of any wrongdoing. In fact, she actually seemed to cheer on the principal as he continued to chastise me,” he said.
The principal criticized Bill for sending a “political” letter, which was sent by a private foundation and did not use school resources or school email, contrary to what the principal said.
Also, Bill reminded the principal that he, and all school district staff, were required to attend what was essentially a rally for Democratic candidates in the high school auditorium during an opening of school Inservice day. Despite this, the principal continued to threaten Bill that his teaching credentials could come under review by a state board.
Bill received pro bono legal help and a letter was sent to his administration. His principal, while still expressing displeasure with the email, then said that Bill had not done anything to trigger disciplinary action.
But Bill was done. He told his principal and the union president that he planned to retire after 23 years of teaching.
“I enjoyed teaching and miss interacting with the students and staff,” he said. “But, I am now enjoying retirement.”
Bill’s experience was one of many prompting the creation of AFFT. Had we at AFFT been around when Bill exercised his First Amendment rights, Bill would have had the community and resources to defend himself—including a referral to lawyers who offer free legal representation—against an administration and union official aligned against him.