Teacher says she was fired because of the high cost of son's cancer treatment

Feb. 27, 2018
Former elementary school teacher has filed discrimination complaint with the state of Massachusetts against Andover district

A former elementary school teacher in the Andover (Mass.) district has filed a discrimination complaint contending that the district fired her because of the high cost of her son’s cancer treatments.

The Eagle-Tribune reports that Jacquelyn Silvani lost her job in 2016 as a Title I teacher at West Elementary School in Andover; she was told the position was cut because of lack of funding.

Then, a few months later, the job was re-posted. Silvani says she applied and was not interviewed or rehired. That summer, she applied for two other open positions in Andover. She was interviewed for one, but not hired.

Silvani says she believes her position was actually cut because of the cost of treating her son, Joseph, who was 3 at the time. His medical bills cost the school district $1,091,794 before her position was terminated, according to a claim summary from Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

The town of Andover is privately insured and had to foot the bill for his treatment.

Finance and Budget Director Donna Walsh, who oversees the town’s self-insurance plan, declined to comment. Superintendent Sheldon Berman would say only that the district has a “different opinion” of what happened.

Silvani's son’s cancer now is in remission, and she works at Sacred Heart School in Hampton, N.H.

But her termination from Andover Public Schools put her family in a bind, she says. Her husband's health insurance plan covered significantly less, and she found herself scrambling to find work — and benefits for her son.

Silvani’s son was diagnosed in 2015 with stage 4 neuroblastoma. Silvani took a leave of absence to care for her son.. On March 6, 2016, she sent an email to Berman about her plan to return to work the following school year.

As a Title I teacher, Silvani’s position was covered by a federal program that steers money to schools with students from low-income families. In her last contract, she made about $55,000 per year.

But a couple of months after she signaled her plan to return, Silvani was told the position no longer existed because of a lack of federal funding.

Silvani's complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination is pending.

Silvani says she never wanted to publicly share her experience, but she now feels compelled to raise awareness about her case.

“It has been really uncomfortable for me to reach out,” she says. “I am not the type of person who would want to put my business out there, but at this point it just really feels like it needs to go to the next level."

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