Another week in the wild west of WPS is in the books! Don’t worry about keeping it all straight in your head – that’s too much to ask. Plus, it’s my job now. Hope this helps!
1. Racism-free WPS’s demands were presented to the School Committee.
This past summer you may have seen the hundreds of stories from the Racism-free WPS Instagram account dominating your feed, your friends’ stories, and conversations amongst many of us who are connected to WPS. This account, run by a group of very rad WPS alumni, created a form for individuals to submit their anonymous testimony regarding the ways they experienced discrimination in the schools, which included racism but also extended to sexism and sexual assault as well as ableism, homophobia, transphobia, and more. After carving out this space where students, alumni, parents, staff, and many others finally felt comfortable speaking out about the injustices they have endured, the Racism-Free WPS team worked with their followers to create a list of nine demands that then received over 850 supportive signatures and was submitted to the School Committee as a petition. While some tried to question the integrity of the petition, including School Committee member John Monfredo, an overwhelming number of call-in users voiced their support for the demands and were appalled by the attempts to disregard the hundreds of accounts shared through this page. One parent shared her powerful story of having to deal with a racist and sexist incident that happened to one of her children, how difficult it was to enact justice, and how their story wasn’t on the account. “There are so many more stories than what you’ve read there,” she said. Another common request was that the $1 million being poured into having School Resource Officers (read: cops) in the schools be reallocated to support the other 8 demands, as Defund WPD recommended in their joint statement with Racism-free WPS.
The School Committee unanimously voted to send each of the demands to the relevant subcommittees for further review.
2. Transportation staff are unhappy with the School Committee’s decisions on busing.
Somehow this hasn’t ended up in the news articles about last night’s School Committee meeting, but while many of the call-in users were calling to voice their support for Racism-free WPS, a significant number of callers expressed their extreme disappointment and anger regarding the decision to have students sit three feet apart on school buses rather than six feet apart. This outrage comes on the heels of a protest held by union members last week specifically addressing this topic. Although school is remote this quarter, bus drivers and monitors are still expected to transport students to and from Catholic and collaborative schools without the proper safety measures. Most of the callers expressing their anger about this decision were bus drivers or other transportation staff, demanding to know why they were not being granted the same level of protection as those who would be working inside schools, where students will be kept six feet apart from one another. Each of them extended an invitation to members of the School Committee to ride their buses while sitting three feet apart, asserting that if they believe it is safe for students and staff then they should do it themselves. Hopefully they will accept or change their tune.
3. Fall sports will be happening… mostly.
The School Committee voted 6-1 to allow field hockey, boys’ and girls’ soccer, cross country, and golf to compete this fall, while football, cheerleading, and girls’ volleyball will only be able to practice. The one opposed vote came from Tracy O’Connell Novick, who voiced a couple different concerns. First, she pointed out that participation in these programs will inherently be inequitable since no transportation will be provided for practices or games. She also highlighted the unfairness of allowing sports to return while other extracurricular activities, such as drama, music, and robotics, won’t be allowed to return. It’s honestly pretty laughable and transparent for this to be voted through – the clear favoring of school athletics over all other extracurricular pursuits is typical of schools across the country who value physical competition (which, of course, is valuable) over other equally important activities. Hmm… I wonder why this might be culturally consistent across the country? What phenomenon could possibly explain why physical competition is rewarded while intellectual and artistic endeavors are cast aside? I guess we’ll never know.
For those of you who are concerned about the safety of our student-athletes, don’t be! Our Superintendent has assured us that these athletic spaces will operate differently this year. For example, players won’t be able to head the ball in soccer and opposing teams won’t be allowed on the same sidelines. Of course, this changes everything and should assuage all of our fears – surely, these rules will never be broken and having students in close quarters while sweating and running at one another will do nothing to violate any CDC guidelines. This one makes my head hurt.
4. The $15.5 million budget cut has been approved.
Last week I covered the decision by the state to cut funding to our school district by $15.5 million, and now the School Committee had to approve a plan of just how that will shake out logistically and financially. That isn’t an enviable position to be in. You can review the nitty-gritty of what they’re cutting here, but I will provide some of the takeaways. First, the School Committee was able to swing these cuts without laying off any employees – instead, many are furloughed or delayed from coming into work (not a huge improvement from getting fired, but at least they can come back someday). Another contentious decision was cutting extended day programs, which usually serve the district’s most vulnerable students and provide income for the teachers who participate. Many members of the School Committee appeared to be genuinely disappointed having to make this call, prompting Molly McCullough to motion to prioritize extended day programming should more funds come through. This motion passed 6-1, with Tracy O’Connell Novick opposed, stating that it would be more beneficial to use any extra funds for supplies for students. Finally, there is a looming, vague 2% reduction across all salary accounts. The proposal states that this cut does not impact current salaries, but they were not able to be discussed further because of collective bargaining.
The proposal passed 6-1, with only Dianna Biancheria opposing on the grounds that the decision was too rushed.
5. WPS is not revising its Title IX policy – and that’s good.
Our truly evil Secretary of Education, multi-level marketing tycoon Betsy Devos, introduced new Title IX regulations that should shake all of us to our core. Title IX is a federal civil rights law that was passed as part of the Equal Rights Amendments in 1972 and protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance. This notably includes the ways schools handle sexual harassment and assault, on which Devos is seeking to substantially turn back the clocks. Advocates, politicians, and civil rights advocates are infuriated by these new regulations, including Catherine Lhamon, the chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and the assistant secretary for civil rights in Obama’s Education Department, who tweeted that this decision is “taking us back to the bad old days . . . when it was permissible to rape and sexually harass students with impunity.” 18 state attorneys, including our own, are actually suing the federal government over these regulations – but this hasn’t stopped the regulations from going into effect. How does this trickle down to Worcester? Well, updating the Title IX policy given the new regulations was on the agenda, but the School Committee voted 6-1 to hold off. This means that unless there is a federal or legal change, Worcester’s Title IX policies will stay the same. Only Dianna Biancheria was opposed. Holding our ground is better than slipping backward!
This conversation is especially alarming given just how many of Racism-free WPS’s stories directly discuss sexual assault and harassment, including huge numbers of stories about teachers committing acts of sexual violence against students. Changing the disciplinary practices regarding sexual misconduct was not on their list of demands, focusing instead on health and consent education and inclusive dress policies. However, one can’t help but think of these events as part of a larger historical reckoning regarding sexual violence. That Devos’ regressive policy was avoided for now, how will things change in the next few months (or years, should/when our president is re-elected)?
6. Our teachers are back to work!
Professional development began for WPS teachers this week. Thankfully, they are now able to choose whether they’ll be completing it from their homes or their classrooms, unlike earlier in the year when they were going to be required to be in-school to do remote training. Massachusetts teachers won a 10-day school year extension back in July in order for them to receive the preparatory training they need to deliver quality remote education. I’m rooting for the teachers here and hoping that they’re able to build the necessary skills in the coming weeks to strengthen their teaching practice in this new environment. Only time will tell the effectiveness of this PD.
Also, apparently these educators have been forbidden from meeting with families before the school year begins and the union is not pleased. This came up at the rally mentioned earlier where transportation staff were concerned about safety. Many educators were hoping to use these extra ten days to strengthen communication with families but are now not allowed to. Given WPS’ history of discouraging staff from reaching out to families, this is not an especially surprising development, though it is definitely discouraging.
That’s all from me for now. Thanks for reading and staying up to date on all the highs, lows, and general drama of our schools. See you next week!