Sunday, September 9, 2007

Teacher sues over computers

This article was published in the Hayward Daily Review, June 25, 2007.

HAYWARD -- When Luis Reynoso left the high-tech industry to pursue a second career in teaching, he never thought he would consider filing a lawsuit against his own district and be forced to resign.

Reynoso, a fifth- and sixth-grade teacher at Harder Elementary School, has been battling the district since last August, when school officials took 36 computers from his classroom. Printers, Webcams and a digital camera also went missing.

"I'm very surprised it's gone this far," said Reynoso, 47, of Hayward. "All I want to do is teach, (and) we have to go through these shenanigans."

Reynoso, who said many of those computers were purchased out-of- pocket, has since filed a tort claim against the district alleging larceny, seeking compensation for $25,000. A tort claim is a preliminary step before a person is able to file a lawsuit; he has yet to hear back from the district regarding the claim.

School officials remain mum on the situation, citing personnel issues.

Last August, the district's technology department removed out-of- date computers from classrooms as part of a 3-month-old program called the School Wide Excess Equipment Pickup, which is when they came across Reynoso's setup.

"His issue was a public safety issue," said Patrick Simon, the director and chief technology officer for the district. "He had a lot of electrical wires and a lot of cable wires strung out throughout his classroom, where he made an attempt to turn his classroom into a computer lab."

Reynoso, however, disagrees. He said that if there had been any kind of issue regarding cables, someone could have approached him directly or unplugged the computers. He said he had received no warning.

"I felt violated and betrayed," said Reynoso. "At first I could not believe it. Even now I still can't believe it. The people that were supposed to work together as a team. I was hurt after pouring (in) so much of my own resources and my own time."

Hayward fire Marshal John Berg said the Fire Department conducts annual inspections at Harder and that according to records there were no violations at the school.

Reynoso said that in April his battle with the district took a turn for the worse when the principal notified him that he would not be re-elected to continue teaching at Harder the following year. Reynoso was a probationary teacher who was expected to gain tenure this year. The principal said Reynoso was not a good fit for the district. Reynoso began his teaching career in 2002, in Hayward Unified.

Rather than having it go on record that he was not re-elected, Reynoso said his union advised him to resign, so he did.

Kathy Crummey, Hayward Education Association president, refused to comment on the matter.

As a teacher, Reynoso would receive at least one performance evaluation each year. Evaluations from December 2004 to May 2006 show Reynoso ranked as an effective teacher in all categories.

In November 2006, shortly after he had met informally with the district regarding his computers, Reynoso said he received an unsatisfactory evaluation for the first time, with what he called inaccurate comments about his performance. The district refused to elaborate further for this story.

Gabriel Morales, a third- and fourth-grade teacher at Harder, said that if a teacher is having difficulties, evaluations usually drop gradually, not drastically.

"We can't afford to lose teachers like Mr. Reynoso," Morales said. "He's very hard to replace, and you'll never find a way to replace him quickly."


Online version can be found here.