The Falmouth Educators’ Association overwhelmingly voted “no confidence” in Falmouth Public Schools Human Resources Director Joany Santa on February 8, citing her role in the FEA’s deteriorating relationship with administrative staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. The vote passed 190-3 with 19 abstentions.
Ms. Santa has worked for Falmouth Public Schools since 2017. She holds one of six administrative positions that typically comprise the Falmouth School Committee’s team in collective bargaining sessions and acts as the gatekeeper for a host of routine requests ranging from sick days to salary changes, credits and workplace accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires employers to make reasonable job modifications so an individual with a disability can perform the individual’s job to the same extent as people without disabilities.
In a statement following the vote, FEA president Lori Andrade and vice president James Deasy said Ms. Santa, “Has been dismissive of educators’ concerns and has shown a lack of understanding of the basic tenets of collective bargaining and the rights of unionized educators. What should have been routine contract procedures have turned into divisive confrontations through delays, misinformation and contradictory guidance.”
The FEA initiated collective bargaining in July 2020 as Falmouth Public Schools were drawing up plans to reopen in the fall without representation from the teachers union. Negotiations continued to unfold over the course of nearly six months before the two sides agreed to the terms of a Memorandum of Agreement on an array of issues related to the pandemic. Most of the issues had never before been brought to the bargaining table at Falmouth Public Schools.
In a phone interview this week, Mr. Deasy said terms for ADA accommodations in the COVID-19 work environment posed a particular impasse during the many months of negotiations.
ADA requests from employees with compromised immune systems came back from Ms. Santa with “boiler plate” accommodations, Mr. Deasy said, “but people have varying needs and we had to take extra steps she wouldn’t accept.”
Ms. Andrade also spoke about Ms. Santa’s handling of ADA requests, saying last week that she knew of many cases this year in which individuals with disabilities had to pursue their requests through a grievance process in order to receive accommodations under the ADA.
In September last year, the FEA began surveying its members on their experiences with Ms. Santa, collecting a sufficient amount of feedback to provide the impetus for the “no confidence” vote that took place and passed last week.
“A vote of no confidence indicates there is a lack in someone’s ability to follow through with the expectations of their role,” Ms. Andrade said. “For us, we see the leverage of this vote in that we’re telling our employer that someone in a position of power isn’t acting in a way that draws the reverence we expect to find.”
In response to a request for comment, Ms. Santa said in an email, “The Human Resources Office has great respect for all the educators and staff of the Falmouth Public Schools and has strived, and will continue to strive, to support a fair and equitable work environment for all. We serve the students of Falmouth by supporting all our employees equitably.”