CADDO PARISH, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – A Northwest Louisiana teacher’s union has filed suit against the Caddo Parish School District, claiming eligibility requirements for a $1,000 ‘heroes’ supplement for district employees are discriminatory – particularly against female employees, those who are older, and those with a handicap.
The one-time payments were approved by the school board last month and are set to be paid out in June to employees who worked at least 90 percent of their scheduled workdays during the calendar year. Employees absent for workshops, training, or due to COVID-19 would not have those days counted against the eligibility requirements.
Red River United, which says it is the largest local union in Louisiana and represents teachers and school employees in Bossier, Caddo, and Red River Parishes, calls that 90-percent eligibility threshold “arbitrary and capricious.”
“This year has been grueling and every employee who has shown up for our students is a hero. That doesn’t change just because someone had to take time off to have a baby, or went in for emergency surgery,” said RRU President Jackie Lansdale. “We are going to fight for their rights, which should be the same as everyone else’s.”
In the lawsuit filed Monday in Caddo district court, Red River United asks the court to order the district to expand the stipend to include more district employees.
“The teachers and school employees of the Red River United have consistently voted to keep our school doors open. What a slap in the face of those who literally put their lives, and for some, their unborn child’s, on the line to be left out of the Hero pay. Our members have voted to stand together on this,” said Jordan Thomas, President of the Caddo Federation of Teachers, a division of Red River United.
Along with their statement announcing the lawsuit, the teacher’s union Monday distributed copies of letters sent to CPSB by various district staff.
“In early September, I watched my only son take his last breath while fighting a horrible genetic terminal illness during a pandemic,” read one of those letters. “I have worked for Caddo for 14 years and to know I am being excluded because I chose to mourn the death of my child makes me feel worthless, and honestly I am considering leaving Caddo for the lack of humanity they have for their employees.”
“I have worked for Caddo for 13 years, and to know I am being excluded because I chose to mourn the death of my mother and have lifesaving surgery makes me feel like I am not valued as an employee or a person,” read another. “Why should I be penalized for circumstances that were not under my control? How can you tell me I am important and needed in the district while at the same time excluding me from this supplement?”
“We are asking the Caddo Parish School Board to do what is right. Employees should NOT be punished for having a baby or a health condition,” read another letter from a teacher who had a caesarean delivery in December and was out for eight weeks and therefore does not qualify for the supplement.
“While district officials do not comment on pending litigation, the school system looks forward to district courts determining the merit of the case,” the school district said in a statement released early Monday afternoon.
“The statement from Caddo Schools comes after weeks of repeated requests by district leadership to the employee organization to cease spreading erroneous and false information to members and the general public about the Caddo Parish School Board’s Heroes Supplement,” the statement continued.
The Heroes’ Supplement will cost an estimated $6 million and is made possible through higher than estimated sales tax revenues, according to the school district.
“At the center of the Board’s focus was a desire to recognize those that had served students throughout the year – echoing what has become a nationwide concern of ensuring qualified employees were consistently in front of students each day even as districts faced shortages in staff due to the pandemic.”
The school district said in the statement that the Heroes Supplement is their latest effort to ensure employees are supported through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Last year, the Board voted to maintain the full pay and benefits of all district employees as well as continue to pay substitutes. Further, last June the Board voted to move forward with cost of living increases for all employees and declined to pass on any insurance premium increases to employees for the fifth year in a row. Finally, the district was among the most generous in the region in providing fully paid COVID leave without asking employees to use their personal sick days.”
Red River United has asked the court to block the Caddo Parish School Board from implementing the one-time pay supplement until a hearing can be held to determine whether or not the plan is constitutional.