Teachers rallied against staff cuts in Randolph schools Tuesday afternoon
THE PATRIOT LEDGER – Educators and parents rallied along North Main Street Tuesday afternoon and called for the rehiring of staff and implementation of strong safety protocols amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Randolph Public School administrators sent out 26 reduction-in-force notices and nine non-renewal notices to all of the districts’ art, music and physical education teachers, as well as some social workers and guidance counselors, in June.
In a letter, Superintendent Thea Stovell cited anticipated reductions by 10 to 20 percent in local aid as part of the reason for the cuts. She also said the pandemic and accompanying social distancing requirements might not allow for certain programs like gym class this school year.
Since then, Stovell confirmed three music teachers and one art teacher have been rehired and said more recalls or hires may happen as administrators finalize back-to-school schedules. But at the rally Tuesday, Randolph teachers made it clear they want to see all staff rehired for school this fall.
“We are still looking for fully staffed schools,” Randolph Education Association President Shauna Rommelmeyer said. “We’re looking for all those positions to be recalled… We’ve got some really talented educators and we want them back. The kids deserve it.”
During the rally, teachers brought chairs that remained empty to represent each cut employee, which they described as lost student opportunities. Two empty seats placed next to each other had signs reading ”-1 social worker” and ”-1 art teacher.”
“I want the kids to have a full, well-rounded education. They deserve to have art. They deserve to have gym, music. Most importantly, they deserve to have social workers,” said Brie Riccio, a high school English teacher. “Especially after coming off a pandemic, our kids are gonna have such high social, emotional needs and I’m worried we’re not going to be able to meet them with the limited resources we have.”
Randolph has adopted a hybrid model for the return to school this fall. Students in kindergarten through grade 12 will attend in-person classes for two days and learn remotely for three each week. Students younger than kindergarten or with disabilities will attend 4½ in-person days per week. The decision to do hybrid schooling was made partially because of Randolph’s status as a “yellow zone” town, a designation given by the state to towns with between four and eight average daily cases per 100,000 people.
Under this model, the teachers union is calling for a safe environment to return to school. Rommelmeyer cited ventilation, heating and the age of school buildings as concerns. But, she said she’s thankful the district will require 6 feet of distance to be kept between students — a more cautious approach than the minimum 3 feet accepted by the state.
The district is also taking extra measures with masks. The state recommends students in grades 2 through 12 wear face coverings, but Randolph will require it of all students.
At least one teacher, Megan Seseske, wants the district to adopt a fully remote learning model until the local case count drops. She said the district is recommending an extra level of personal protective equipment for special education teachers like herself because they often have to work more closely with students. The equipment recommended includes a full body gown, face shield and goggles in addition to a mask, which she believes would heighten the anxiety of students.
“We’re going to look like medical staff versus a teacher, and that is troublesome to me. I don’t want to give that impression to my students,” she said.
Holly German, the mother of a third grader, hopes the district listens to what its teachers are saying.
“That they see how important this is to have all of those teachers in place, it’s imperative for the kids’ education to have all of these teachers available to us,” she said.
Rommelmeyer would not comment on the likelihood of having cut teachers return this fall, but she said the union is in negotiations with the district and that administrators are hearing their concerns, which she described as “a positive.”
Stovell said there will be social workers and school psychologists in every building, and that the district is working hard to create a safe space for its students and teachers this fall.
“We are confident that our students will be serviced with the staff we have in place,” Stovell said in an e-mail. “With one-third of our students in the buildings at a time and class sizes often below 12, there are many qualified adults to support the social-emotional well-being of students.”
Teachers will return on Aug. 31 for 10 days of professional development, some of which will be done remotely. On Sept. 16, students will return to their respective buildings for the first time in six months.
By Anastasia E. Lennon