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Claremont Students Join Protest Against Boone

Thursday, May 10, 2012

 

When the bell rings at the end of the day Thursday at Claremont Academy, students will drop their books and pick up their posters and bullhorns. They will rally in front of the school in a show of support for teachers who have been told they must reapply for their jobs before returning next fall. The rally is also being held in protest of School Superintendent Dr. Melinda Boone’s decision to eliminate Assistant Principal Shannon Sutton’s position

“It’s our education, we should have a say,” Gbidee Roberts, a student and member of Students for Better Education (Claremont Academy) (SBE), the group that is coordinating the rally, said in a press release.

There are about 400 students at Claremont Academy.

“I am aware of it. I just learned about it,” Boone told GoLocalWorcester, before saying she was in a meeting and could not talk further. “I don’t have any comment on it right now.”

Teachers displaced

The protest will be held at 2:30 p.m. outside the school as part of National Teachers’ Appreciation Week. Students will be marching in support of the school’s roughly 40 teachers, all of whom were told earlier this year they must reapply for their jobs and must attend professional development days during the summer. While none are being laid off, many could end up being placed in other schools throughout the district.

Protests have already been held over the issue, including one last month outside school department offices in the Durkin Administration Building. One was planned later in the month outside city hall, but was cancelled at the last minute following a meeting between Boone, Education Association of Worcester teachers’ union President Leonard Zalauskas, Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) President Paul Toner and Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville. After that meeting, Zalauskas said progress had been made and that negotiations would be taking place.

Almost one week later, the EAW abruptly called off talks, with Zalauskas saying, “We’ve declared an impasse. There’s just no more to talk about.”

Protest held

Teachers and union members took to city hall the next night, before the start of a School Committee meeting. Another protest is planned in Boston on Saturday, at the conclusion of the MTA’s annual Meeting of Delegates. The union also intends to protest again before the School Committee’s next meeting Thursday, May 17 at City Hall.

Zalauskas could not immediately be reached for comment about the planned student rally.

Biancheria a ‘no’

The union head was particularly outraged by Boone’s insistence that most of the teachers reapply for their jobs, although the superintendent had conceded to promise some of them would remain at Claremont. There has also been anger over the manner in which Boone informed teachers of her decision. School Committee members, who voted 5-2 in favor of allowing Boone to conduct impact bargaining with the teachers’ union, have not spoken at length about whether they expected Boone to tell all of them they had to reapply. School Committee member Dianna Biancheria, who was one of two voting in opposition, has been the most vocal.

“I was a no then and I’m a no now,” she said of whether she believes Boone should have made the move.

Mayor Joseph Petty, however, told GoLocalWorcester recently, “I believe this is the right thing to do.”

He did concede that “the communication between the administration and the schools could have been better.”

Students use their voice

On Facebook the protest is being billed as a “Student Speak Out.” The press release listed the contact person as Frances Santos, but a phone call to the number on the release was answered by a gentleman who said he was not Frances Santos and did not know her. An e-mail sent to the address provided on the release also was not answered.

The press release issued a call to students to stand up and take charge, saying in part: “This is where the students will be able to say whatever they want about what is happening. You are in charge. You will be the ones with the bullhorns and the microphones. You get to have a say and use your voice.”

Students were being encouraged to recite poems and testimonials during the rally. SBE members were also encouraged to bake cupcakes and “show acts of kindness to teachers.”

According to the press release, Claremont Academy students started SBE in 2012 to “provide a space for them to have a voice in their education.”

 

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