Broward Teachers Union president Anna Fusco was visiting Olsen Middle School to investigate problems reported to her by teachers at the school. When she came out of a bathroom, she found an angry principal. The school's head administrator, Valerie Harris, told her, "We're not going to have any further conversation" and "You need to leave campus."
Harris had called backup while Fusco used the restroom: Broward Sheriff's deputies were waiting with the principal. As the union leader streamed the encounter on Facebook Live, one of the deputies threatened her with arrest for trespassing.
Fusco says the whole tense situation was a complete subversion of the union's right to advocate for its members. Instead of checking out the reported problems at the school, four cops escorted her and two other union reps off the grounds of the Dania Beach school.
"We had every right to be there," she tells New Times.
As the May 24 video has spread quickly among teacher groups on social media, the Broward Teachers Union (BTU) has filed multiple grievances with the district. Fusco says the incident was a clear violation of teachers' contracts, which state that union representatives "will be allowed to visit schools to investigate teaching conditions, employee complaints, problems, official union business, or for other purposes." She believes it might have also broken state law.
A district spokeswoman did not respond to New Times' request for comment on the video or Fusco's complaints.
The union and school administrators have been at odds over campus visits in recent months. In April, about a dozen principals went as far as filing a lawsuit claiming Fusco and other union leaders have been bypassing security and showing up without giving notice as required by contract. The lawsuit also accuses Fusco of bullying.
“I would have thought in the aftermath of Stoneman Douglas that BTU would finally understand the need to follow the rules, procedures, and policies that keep us all safe,” Lisa Maxwell, executive director of the Broward Principals and Assistants Association, said in an email to district officials, according to the Sun Sentinel.
Fusco denies those claims and says a handful of problem principals have taken issue with the union's aggressive advocacy for teachers.
In the May 24 incident, Fusco says, the union had given the required notice before heading to Olsen Middle after school hours to check out the campus and meet with teachers. They checked in when they arrived. But the principal and security were following the two union reps around on a golf cart in what they took as an intimidation attempt. Fusco then went to Olsen herself to talk to the principal.
While waiting to speak with her, the union head says she got permission from a secretary to use the restroom — which is when the principal showed up with the deputies. Fusco grabbed her phone and began recording.
The video, which now has more than 23,000 views on Facebook, ends with the three union representatives walking away from the school. Similar incidents have happened recently at other schools, though without the threat of arrest, Fusco says.
"We cannot allow them to say we don't have a right to go in and check," she says. "Because that's some shady stuff."