Complaint against Absegami principal alleges ‘pattern of harassment’

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GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP-- An Absegami High School teacher suffering from cancer filed a complaint against the principal recently for an incident in which she said she was discriminated against because of her illness. 

French teacher Sally Giannandrea has been battling cancer for years. She took a three-month medical leave of absence earlier this year. When she returned to work on April 2, she was called into a meeting by Principal Jeri-Lynn Gatto. Gatto asked why she came back to work and called incompetent, according to the affirmative-action complaint filed on April 30 and recently obtained by The Current.

“I was told I was seen as weak by my colleagues and that this school and these kids are not my ‘therapy,’” Giannandrea said in the complaint.

Another incident involved fire drills. Giannandrea alleges that she was discriminated against when she was not asked whether she needed another teacher to walk the students out during a fire drill.

“As a result, Dr. Gatto then questioned my physical competency by asking what else I was not able to do with my students, if I can’t even take them out during a fire drill. Dr. Gatto asked me if my students would be better off without me. She then told me that this situation is not working and I should go home and think about how I was going to change,” the complaint reads.

Giannandrea then states in the complaint that she did not have union representation when she was pulled from her classroom for the meeting.
“Due to the callousness and brutality of the principal’s harassing tone, my supervisor and I left the meeting in tears,” the complaint states.
Absegami teacher Mark Glickstein is the union representative. He told The Current on Wednesday that the union is waiting for the Greater Egg Harbor Regional School District to issue its findings in a report this week. The complaint was filed with John Ragan, the affirmative action officer for the district.
“The staff (at Absegami) is going to the school board meeting on June 2 because it is important that the board takes this very seriously,” Glickstein said. “They need to know we are not just complainers and whiners.”

While Giannandrea has no infractions or disciplinary actions filed against her in 10 years of working in the district, Gatto, who has been the principal at the high school for seven years, has exhibited a “pattern of harassment, intimidation and bullying,” Glickstein said.
Glickstein said he appointed teachers and support staff to a committee to improve Absegami because of Gatto’s alleged discriminatory actions. What happened to Giannandrea was the “straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said.

“The committee is in place to investigate a pattern by the principal and we are compiling our findings,” Glickstein said.
Giannandrea would not comment on the complaint.

“Sally appreciates all of the support that she has gotten from the teachers, students, alumni and the community,” Glickstein said.
Gatto did not return repeated calls seeking comment, nor did she reply to an emailed list of questions.

Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District Superintendent Steven Ciccariello would not comment specifically about the complaint, stating that it was “a personnel matter and I am not permitted by law to discuss it with you.
“I can advise you that the GEHR has strict policies, required by state law, to address harassment complaints by both students and employees. These policies are strictly followed and enforced,” Ciccariello said.

 


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