Union votes no confidence on Lab School director

By SAMANTHA SMYLIE
Staff Writer

The Faculty Association (FA) teachers’ union at University of Chicago Laboratory Schools voted no confidence on director Charles Abelmann, who has been working at Lab since July 2017.

The results of the vote show that a majority of the union, 179 members, voted no confidence. Twelve supported Abelmann, 22 abstained and 22 others did not return their ballots. The union represents 235 facultymembers. The FA released a statement along with the results in early February.

Abelmann’s office refused numerous requests from the Herald for comment, deferring to the U. of C. communications office.

According to the FA statement, Abelmann has attempted to divide faculty and families, disparaged individual faculty and the whole faculty, violated a collective bargaining agreement, planned poorly and caused disruption to the schools and dismantled trust between faculty and families.

Faculty at Lab school are not required to join the union, but Jim Catlett, a teacher and FA president, said there has been a surge in membership since Abelmann arrived at Lab. “We’re running about 85 percent membership within the union. The reason why we have seen this increase is because of his style of leadership,” he said.

The vote came after the dismissal of Daniel Bobo-Jones, who worked as high school biology teacher at Lab for 14 years. He was fired on Jan. 8, two days into winter term; the FA said Lab’s administration charged Bobo-Jones with falsifying a student’s grade

“The upheaval and drama associated with [Bobo-Jones’ dismissal] were wild. Anger, tears, frustration and chaos,” said a facultymember who did not want to be identified for fear of retribution. “You have a catalyst in the firing of Dan Bobo-Jones to everybody with a grievance to air about how they have been treated by the director.”

The FA said that Lab has experienced an increase in enrollment from the nursary to the high school over the last few years and that increases in class sizes has doubled educators’ workloads.

Catlett said that lower school science teachers have been expected to teach six classes to accommodate the increased enrollment, rather than the five classes they had been teaching.

“That was communicated without any attempt to bargain with the union,” Catlett said. “The workload is something that the administration has to bargain. They cannot make unilateral changes to working conditions without attempting to bargain.”

The facultymember who did not want to be identified said Abelmann’s “disparaging the Faculty Association in front of faculty, alumni and students” has further alienated him from teachers.

“If a toxic environment makes it difficult to do one’s job effectively, then, yes, that’s where we are,” the facultymember said. “The amount of my brain that is currently not thinking about the best way to help my students … that’s a problem for me.”

A statement from the U. of C. recognized both the “dedication of the Laboratory Schools’ faculty and Charlie Abelmann’s commitment and leadership.”

“The recent faculty vote and message reflect important concerns that leaders at Lab and the University take seriously, and we will work with the entire Lab community to find productive ways to engage and move forward,” it continued. “Lab delivers an outstanding education for students, and we are grateful for the passionate commitment of Lab faculty, staff and families to this mission.”

s.smylie@hpherald.com