The Sandwich School Committee has taken a vote of no confidence against Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley and the state’s education board due to how pandemic mandates have been handled.
The vote was taken during the board’s meeting on Wednesday, December 15.
Board member Burton Fisher had initially proposed the vote after multiple letters to the commissioner requesting transparency on the masking guidelines and vaccine rate quotas needed to remove those mandates went unanswered.
As it stands, students and staff in public schools in the state are required to wear masks inside of the buildings unless the vaccine rate in a building is at least 80 percent. None of the schools in Sandwich meet that requirement at this time.
Mr. Fisher said that more than 100 teachers unions in the state have taken such votes, though he could not find that any school boards had done the same.
“I’m concerned about his lack of leadership,” he said of the commissioner, specifically referring to his guidance, or lack thereof, during the pandemic.
Vice chairwoman Kerri L. Ames said that she wholeheartedly agreed.
She said that from day one, the commissioner has left districts across the state with no guidance when it comes to running a district during a pandemic. During the summer of 2020, the district worked tirelessly to develop a reopening plan, only to be told at the eleventh hour that new protocols had been released.
“We were ready to go and he pulled the rug out from us yet again,” she said.
She also took issue with the way in which the commissioner changed the rules around remote learning in the middle of the year last year. The district had a method that she said was working, with a hybrid model at the secondary school and one remote day during the week for elementary schools.
However, since the commissioner felt that some districts were abusing the remote learning option, he took it away for all districts.
Board member Kristi Bader said that she would like some additional time to look into what, if any, ramifications might come from such a vote.
Board member Susan Miller said that she would like to add the state education board to the motion because the commissioner answers to the board. She said that in order to have a no confidence vote against Commissioner Riley, she felt that they would also have to take such a vote against the board.
“He does not operate in a vacuum,” she said.
The motion was changed to include the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in the vote of no confidence.
Mr. Fisher said that he could not support the new motion because he felt that if someone were to vote no-confidence in a superintendent, they would not also vote no-confidence in a school board. He said that he would prefer the vote to remain specific to the commissioner.
Chairman Donald DiGiacomo said that the school committee has reached out multiple times for guidance and transparency over the past two school years to little avail.
Last year, the board sought clarity on why students could play sports indoors, but chorus was not a permissible inside activity. This meant that choral students across the state were relegated to the outdoors to rehearse and perform, even if it meant braving freezing temperatures.
Multiple letters were sent to the commissioner requesting to see the scientific data on why this was the case. It took months to have their concerns addressed and bring those programs indoors.
This year, multiple letters have been sent regarding the mask mandate since September. A response was finally received last week, but did not provide any real answers.
While he does not think the vote will actually make much of a difference, he said that it also is a way of making an important statement.
“It puts us on record as saying we’re sick of it,” he said.
He said that maybe other school boards will follow suit. He said that other boards have followed their lead before, referring to last year’s efforts to bring chorus indoors.
The motion passed 5-1-1 with Mr. Fisher opposed and Ms. Bader abstaining.