Backlash swells against Randolph schools’ potential cuts in arts/music

Randolph Middle School’s production of the musical Hairspray, April, 2019
Image by Cristine Ackles

RANDOLPH HERALD – When Reduction in Force (RIF) notices were sent to all Randolph art, music and PE teachers as well as social workers and guidance counselors at the K-8 level at the end of May, shock and disbelief was quickly replaced by outrage.

A group calling itself Support the Students of Randolph was quickly formed, with more than 2,200 Facebook followers, while a petition called Save the Randolph Arts has garnered more than 18,000 signatures as of June 3.

Music professors from five universities signed a letter talking about the power of the arts and imploring Randolph School Committee members to reconsider.

A total of 26 reduction in force (RIF) notices and nine non-renewal notices were sent out to all the art, music and physical education teachers, as well as five social workers and six K-8 guidance counselors, according to School Superintendent Thea Stovell.

The superintendent said the notices had to be sent in keeping with union and contract guidelines regarding timing of layoffs, and also due in part to the COVID-19 impacts and uncertainties surrounding school in the fall. In a June 1 press release, she wrote that “our hope and our plan is to design an educational structure that includes as many of the staff members from the above listed departments as possible.”

Support the Students of Randolph logo by Shana Blanc, age 13, an 8th grader at Randolph Middle School, courtesy image

“The key phrase is ‘as many as possible,’ ” physics teacher Jeff Fox said. “I’m worried that this is the starting point and that these reductions, even if some staff members are hired back, are not going to be adequate to meet the needs of all students, especially in light of the pandemic and demonstrations going on nationally.”

The door to the Donovan School’s Music Room, 2017, image by Sharon Swain

Fox is one of the spokespersons for Support the Students of Randolph. While he did not receive an RIF notice, he is involved because he said in the six years he has taught in Randolph, he has seen art, music and phys ed classes transform student’s lives, “not to mention the work social workers and counselors do to help their students.”

“I’m afraid really of what it’s going to look like if we don’t have these programs, if we don’t have these support systems in place,” Fox said. “How’s that going to affect our students both inside the classroom and outside?”

Chorus teacher Jackie Carvey, who has taught in Randolph for 13 years, said she has seen the program develop from when she first started as the third chorus teacher in three years. The override provided more funding, but she said it took years for the program to grow after the additional funds were available.

She said even if everyone were rehired, she understands the program might look different in the fall.

“Whether or not we are full time or half time, all of us don’t know what model we’ll be operating on next year whether hybrid, remote or on campus,” Carvey said “That lack of clarity is not just frustrating, I think it provokes a lot of anxiety within our students.”

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By Paula Vogler