Is Broward Teachers Union Giving Atheist Teacher a Fair Shake?

In remarks published yesterday here, on the website of Mother Jones magazine, spokesman for the union John Ristow appears to deny having told Juice that two Blanche Ely teachers accused of sprinkling holy water on another teacher would be "fully exonerated." That quote appeared in this Juice post.

Ristow has every reason to want to distance himself from that quote and from others in the post. His statements suggest that the union has already decided to side with the two accused teachers -- one of whom is a union steward -- and to dismiss the claims of the teacher who filed the complaint, Schandra Rodriguez, without bothering to wait for the school district to finish its investigation.

I reached Ristow this morning and asked him whether he denied saying that the two accused teachers, Djuna Robinson and Leslie Rainier, would be "fully exonerated."

Ristow told me: "I'm not denying I said that. But either I misspoke or there was a misunderstanding. What I was trying to say is that the Broward Teachers Union's position is that we want there to be a full investigation that is fair to all three teachers, who are all BTU members."

Except that during our interview Monday afternoon, Ristow did not even know whether Rodriguez, who filed the complaint, was a member of BTU. I asked him that during the interview, and he told me he'd have to check the database and call back to confirm, which he did a few moments later.

Clearly, as a member of the union, Rodriguez was entitled to the very same representation, the same benefit of doubt, as were the teachers she accused of harassing her over religion, Robinson and Rainier.

Instead, the union spokesman said that "what was alleged did not occur" and that the investigation would reveal "something different" from what was contained in Rodriguez's complaint. "It's really unfortunate that in Broward schools, there's very little that prevents people from making allegations," he said Monday.

These were "misstatements," Ristow said this morning. He added, "But that is not an indication of whether we are providing fair representation to all three members, because I clearly stated to you that our number-one priority is to have a fair and thorough investigation."

The Juice post reflected that sentiment, but it was still at odds with Ristow's other statements about how the accused teachers would be exonerated.

It's also puzzling how Ristow would know enough about the case to say that the accused teachers were innocent without also knowing that the accuser was a member of the union.

In fairness, I may have caught Ristow somewhat off balance on Monday -- Juice was the first media source to contact him about the Blanche Ely case, and he had no way of knowing at that time how combustible this case might be. 

All the same, his remarks raise more questions about how the complaint by Rodriguez is being handled.

Marsy Smith, a media relations representative with the Broward County School District, told me this morning that the complaint filed by Rodriguez will remain confidential at least during the course of the investigation, which is being conducted by the district's Special Investigative Unit, comprised of local police officers. She did not know when that investigation would be completed.

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