Mass. teacher battling ALS fired months before earning pension

Phil LeMarbre 

A longtime Massachusetts teacher who is battling ALS is also fighting for his retirement benefits after his family says he was fired over a school board decision.

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Dr. Phil LeMarbre has been an AP Biology teacher at Blackstone Valley Technical High School in Upton, Massachusetts, for nine years and 75 days. He’s set to be terminated on June 12, just 103 days short of hitting eligibility for retirement.

In Massachusetts, he’s only eligible for pension and medical benefits after 10 years of service.

His family says he will lose his life insurance, health insurance and pension because administrators say he failed to comply with requests from the school during an ongoing battle for more sick time. He used his sick time last year during treatment for prostate cancer.

"At first, I remember my mom being like, 'This is not a big deal,' because she was a teacher for 30 years. She just retired. She goes, 'They have a sick bank. This is totally gonna be covered,'" daughter Allie Lavallee told WFXT.

But the family says the school committee voted no. The family consulted attorneys who agreed the school was acting in accordance with the law. Now their only goal is to make sure this never happens to anyone else.

“So really one of the reasons we posted the letter is we want to bring awareness to this so that nobody else has to experience this,” said daughter Joelle LaMarbre. “It’s not gonna cure my dad’s ALS, it’s not going to get him his 103 days that he needs.

The family says they have about three years of retirement savings on their own, but were planning on using LeMarbre's pension for treatment expenses. The family set up a GoFundMe account seeking $50,000 for LeMarbre's care.

Phil LeMarbre, seen here in his wheelchair with his grandkids, has been a biology teacher at Blackstone Valley Regional...

Posted by Jacqui Heinrich on Saturday, June 3, 2017

The school district sent WFXT the following statement:

“Mr. LeMarbre has been a valued member of the Valley Tech staff for almost 10 years. The District has afforded Mr. LeMarbre with every benefit of the law and District policy. The issue that has been discussed publicly by his family touches on a confidential personnel matter, and as such, we will not be commenting on the issue.”

ALS is a degenerative disease that attacks nerves in the spine, robbing its victims of muscle function and eventually the ability to breathe. The disease is fatal; after a diagnosis, victims normally have two to five years to live.

Patrick McMahon contributed to this report.