Maine's First Virtual Charter School Fights Employees' Attempt to Unionize

The dispute follows concerns several teachers raised in September around the hiring of a new principal and a lack of teacher voice in the process

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Leadership at the state’s first online charter school is pushing back on efforts by teachers and staff to form a union, a move that comes a few months after some teachers expressed concern about the school’s hiring of a controversial principal.

The National Labor Relations Board is reviewing a case in which Maine Connections Academy has argued against the right of teachers at the school to unionize through the Maine Education Association and challenged some of the ballots in a November election.

“The election held was fair and valid,” said Grace Leavitt, president of the Maine Education Association, in a news release Friday. “To have to bring this issue to court is proof of why these educators need to have a union. The Maine Education Association is always working to ensure educator voices are heard, no matter where they work.

“These teachers deserve to have their voices heard, and MEA is working to make sure that happens. The teachers at Connections Academy deserve a seat at the table—the tactics being used to fight against them are not only costly to the taxpayer but are simply wrong.”

Maine Connections Academy, a virtual school for students in grades 7-12, opened in the 2014-2015 school year and is one of two virtual charter schools in Maine.

Its curriculum is provided by Pearson PLC, a for-profit parent company the school contracts with.

Students take their classes online, although the school has a physical building in Scarborough.

According to the news release from the MEA, the state teacher’s union, the school has 22 employees. An election in November resulted in a 9-7 vote in favor of forming a union.

The vote came less than two months after some teachers expressed concern over the school’s hiring of Principal Walter Wallace, who resigned from his job as principal of Brunswick Junior High in March amid allegations he harassed and bullied female staff and shortly after a law firm finished an investigation into his conduct.

Anna-Stina Wardlaw, a school counselor at Maine Connections Academy, said Friday some teachers and staff have been frustrated by a lack of voice and input in decision making.

“I don’t think the administration is doing much to help,” Wardlaw said. “They could have embraced it and said, ‘We hear you.’ After a 9-7 vote a clear majority of teachers wanted to be unionized and they could have said, ‘Let’s just move forward.’ That hasn’t happened. They’re fighting it and creating this additional angst that doesn’t have to be there.”

Amy Linscott, president of the board of Maine Connections Academy, and David Strock, an attorney for the school, did not immediately respond to a reporter’s phone call.

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