Teachers, parents and staff spoke out about several issues at the Falmouth School Committee meeting on Tuesday, June 8, citing lack of transparency from the committee and administration, increasingly low morale within the schools, and a fear of retaliation among educators for voicing their concerns.
Marysia Messer, a 24-year educator in the Falmouth Public Schools, expressed frustrations with the committee.
“When we cry foul, when we stand as one body asking for the most basic of employee rights, confidentiality, responsiveness, competence, somehow now we have gone too far,” she said.
Commenters ranged from Falmouth High School graduates to concerned parents and school staff and teachers. Many spoke in support of Lori Andrade, who in April was placed on administrative leave from her position as assistant principal and SEBA at East Elementary School. Issues were raised by the public for all Falmouth schools but particularly at East Falmouth Elementary, as Ms. Andrade’s position, according to public comment, has not been filled.
“If we are respected, listen to us. If we are appreciated, stand with us. If we are needed, help us,” Ms. Messer said.
Concerned community members expressed frustrations with the committee’s closed communication. Some during public comment asked questions that, according to them, the committee and administration have yet to publicly comment on or make teachers aware of.
Chairwoman Kelly Welch said more than once that the committee could not respond to public comments during the meeting and that the committee is limited to addressing agenda items.
“I am very dismayed at the lack of action, transparency, and information provided to the community,” said Terry Alves Hunter, a parent and Falmouth High School graduate. “The lack of action is creating a bigger divide between parents.”
Ms. Hunter went on to convey her feelings of African American students being reprimanded at a level that “reeks of discrimination.”
Ms. Hunter said she has filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights against the school committee for “their willful disregard for children of color and lack of steps to stop the bleeding.”
Lynn Sciarretta, an English teacher at Lawrence School, told the committee of her growing concerns. “Teachers in Falmouth are upset and experiencing feelings of mistrust that is leading to a hostile working environment and extremely low morale,” she said.
Ms. Sciarretta spoke in support of Ms. Andrade. “We cannot allow a wonderful community member who has fought for teachers, supported our children, and has dedicated her life to this community to be dismissed for standing up for our community beliefs,” she said.
Mark Mancini, who stated he has no personal involvement in the schools but has been a member of a union for most of his life, indicated concern for Ms. Andrade’s “misuse of power” in her position as Falmouth Educators’ Association president. Mr. Mancini said Ms. Andrade’s choice to retaliate following an internal investigation “goes against everything that the No Guff spirit of the Falmouth public school system permeates.”
Hala Stewart, a Falmouth graduate and parent of three children, said she has been a supporter of the schools her entire life. Ms. Stewart called in to comment on the repercussions these issues can have on the district and students, directly referencing the split of one music and art teacher between two elementary schools.
“I am incredibly concerned about what’s happening. We are only as strong as our teachers,” said Ms. Stewart, who said she feels that if these issues continue, parents will remove their children from the schools.
Korey Charles, a music teacher at East Falmouth Elementary School, reiterated those points. “Kids will still get music but relationships will suffer,” he said.
Mr. Charles said he witnessed this firsthand when he spent his first four years teaching at two different schools in Falmouth. He said it is difficult for teachers to build relationships when teaching in class for two out of five school days.
Magdalena Kotas, a parent of two East Falmouth students, brought up enrollment issues regarding outdated district lines and the use of part-time teachers in art and music positions. Ms. Kotas said she already knows of five students who will be pulled from Falmouth schools due to these and other related issues.
Lisa Wilcox, a 23-year speech-language pathologist who has worked in three different Falmouth schools, said she believes employment and hiring practices are not being properly conveyed to other employees or the community. Ms. Wilcox asked for more transparency and accuracy from administration in regard to unfilled positions, the announcement of moving teachers, and the number of educators lost or gained.
Teachers implored the committee to hear from more educators within the district.
Todd Oliveira, a 28-year employee in the schools, recently joined the union due to these concerns. He encouraged anyone from the committee to reach out to him for further discussion.
“The picture you are being painted by administration is not the picture that is happening inside Falmouth Public Schools,” Mr. Oliveira said.
Superintendent Lori S. Duerr and Ms. Welch addressed some of the issues raised during public comment during discussion of specific agenda items. Dr. Duerr touched upon the music and art positions, saying there has yet to be any final decisions and school officials are working on hiring additional support following resignations and retirements.
Ms. Welch also reiterated during discussion that hiring practices within the schools looked different last year due to the pandemic and the lack of filling a position this school year could be because the position was a COVID-19 hire.
“I think the most important thing that everyone needs to know is that no student is receiving less instruction than any other student in the district,” Dr. Duerr said.