man in white dress shirt wearing black framed eyeglasses
man in white dress shirt wearing black framed eyeglasses

Help! How do I respond if…

     I am accused of breaking a school policy or law?

Your natural reaction might be to defend yourself immediately and thoroughly, but that may not always be the best strategy.

If there is ever any accusation against you, words are dangerous.

Many innocent people accidentally make themselves a target because they speak too much, too quickly. 

First, know your Weingarten Rights! This name comes from a court case giving employees the right to representation before speaking about an accusation. KNOW THIS CONCEPT, and hopefully you will never need it:

   “If this discussion could in any way lead to my being disciplined or terminated, or affect my personal working conditions, I respectfully request that my union present at this meeting. Until my representative arrives, I choose not to participate in this discussion."

It is your responsibility to ask, “Could this meeting lead to discipline?” or to state, “I believe this conversation is hinting toward disciplinary action,” and then to paraphrase your Weingarten rights. Like Miranda Rights, you may use this at any time you become aware there is the possibility of intent to discipline you. The Alma Education Association is the exclusive representation for all members of the bargaining group. Private lawyers may be barred from your conversations with administrators; building representatives may NOT. You also always have the right to pause a meeting with an administrator in order to have a private conversation with your representative.

Do not make a written statement, either for the district or the police, without your representative present. If you must file a report (i.e. accident report) state only what happened to the student, not how or why. Do not assign blame to anyone, including yourself. Be neutral and factual. Only sign forms that are “acknowledgment of receipt,” and make sure you get a copy. 

Continue to be professional both in and out of school. The less you talk about an accusation, the better for all involved. Be patient, continue to communicate with your building representative, and let the process work to clear your name.

If the situation brings police involvement but is work-related, contact MEA Legal immediately through your building rep, the MEA Uniserv office, or MEA headquarters. This will bring a swift legal response, an appointed lawyer, and funds for bail if needed. Don’t despair, and don’t say anything to anyone until your lawyer is present. Innocent people sometimes word things in a way that is used against them later, so save the explaining for after you have representation to advise you. Silence is not guilt or a refusal to cooperate; Silence is Safety.