Friday, July 2, 1999
Lilien will be back in class, but fight will continue
In some ways, it seems simple: someone is suffering what he feels to be an injustice, so he rallies all the support he can and he fights. But the fight against a perceived oppression is usually considered a good thing, a noble effort. For Concord-Carlisle High School social studies teacher Elliot Lilien, who recently was denied a court injunction to prevent his job from being jeopardized should he not renew his teaching certificate, questions and criticism swirl with support about his decision to continue teaching despite his proclamation to fight the system.
Lilien has objected to the state mandate to apply and pay $100 for recertification because he says he was certified for life, and opposed the requirement of 120 professional development points which he has claimed have little value. He had been willing to sacrifice his job, but Lilien recently said he will be in school in September for one reason that he has stood by all along: he was "offered a way out with dignity."
What that offer entailed was never openly described by Lilien during the months of deliberation preceding the injunction hearing. Now, he is open about what he wanted and what was finally offered for him to continue in his job. He said he could "swallow" recertification and all its accompanying acrobatics if the school committee would formally request that he recertify and continue teaching, as well as promise to support his efforts to change certification procedures coupled with a condemnation of the law. According to Lilien, after many drafts and more proposals, this is what they did. And this, maintained Lilien, along with 60 students waiting to take his German history class, is why he will be in class in the fall.
Lilien has been accused of encouraging members of the community to write letters to officials praising his teaching. "This is a complete lie," said Lilien. "All I said was write to your officials and suggest to them that they make us a reasonable proposal. They all did." He said he wishes criticisms of his tactics, such as waiting to go to court until such a late date in the certification process, had been presented directly to him. According to Lilien, the reason the nine teachers went to court when they did was not to "create crisis," as they were accused of, but because of financial limitations: they hadn't raised enough money to go sooner. And the reason he and others didn't recertify earlier, along with waiting for the proposal from the school committee, was that if they had, they could not seek an injunction to protect their jobs from harm, he said. Recertified, their jobs would be secure and an injunction unattainable. Contrary to another criticism, Lilien emphasized that his lawyer encouraged him and the others to recertify after they lost the injunction, suggesting that once they lost their jobs and were "outside of the system," they would have no means of fighting the law.
And they will continue to fight the law. According to Lilien, contributions continue to come in, and the group hasn't lost enthusiasm, despite their sizeable setback in not receiving the injunction. Although the court ruled that if they were not recertified they would not be protected from dismissal, that hearing had nothing to do with the trial that will address the unfairness of the law itself. Lilien maintains that the group's problems with the certification law, such as breach of contract issues, were never addressed by the judge at the injunction hearing. But the law itself will have its day in court, in a trial which will occur in the fall. Although CCHS teachers Wilson Flight and Lilien are recertified and out of danger of losing their jobs, Lilien remarked that fear of losing his job was never his motivating factor. "I was never influenced by fear," he said. "We'll keep talkingto the Massachusetts Teachers Association, to anyone who will listen. The law is unjust."
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito