Reaction to the Board’s RTA Contract “Yes” Vote.
Now that I have had a day to internalize, I can articulate what I saw happen…
The letter that I produced to my colleagues in the Rochester City School District attempted to get them to understand how vague policy language in the teacher contract empowers bias, racism, and abuse of power. They overwhelmingly voted the yes to the contract. There was still another phase that the contract needed to go through before it got passed. Our Board of Education had to vote on it. During the first part of the Board Meeting dozens of teachers showed up to receive accolades and awards for school improvement. Most of them left after the ceremony. The second part of the board meeting involved speak outs from parents, students, former students, community activists, and myself (my statement can be found HERE). The speak outs overall focused on the flawed nature of the teacher union contract in regards to charging crimes towards students. The third part of the
meeting was spent listening to proposals, legalese, and Robert’s Rule’s of Order that had nothing to do with the teacher contract. The fourth part was the vote on the teacher contract. Two of the board members voted no, five of them voted yes, with the Board President noting that his yes came from a) a change in half of the language and b) a commitment from RTA to infuse the contract with concepts from the newly revised and restorative practices-informed code of conduct that the teacher’s union has vehemently rejected up to this point. This caused great disappointment and anger amongst those who stayed to speak out and watch the vote. The fifth part began when a man went behind the stage where the board is perched and started yelling things like “this is bullshit!” invading the spaces of two board members, knocked down the American flag, and continued making his tirade in the middle of the floor screaming obscenities and his disgust with the verdict. He was allowed to sit back down in the room. The last part of the meeting involved the regeneration of the meeting that was shut down by the chanting of community members who were disgusted with the verdict as well.
I always tell my “Chess, Rhymes, and Wisdom” students to observe, absorb, and keep your analysis to yourself until the time is right. So I did the same thing, and the time is right:
- It was interesting to see how only 2-4 teachers (including myself) out of the dozens that were in the establishment stuck around to hear community voice discuss their concerns about a very specific point in the RTA contract. I am slow to condemn, but I am also quick to use common sense. Yes, teachers have personal lives and other obligations to tend to, so they may not be able to stick around for a board meeting that lasts notoriously long. However, I won’t ignore the fact that 98% of the teacher votes voted yes for the contract before the board meeting, and about 98% of the teachers bounced from the board meeting right before the contract was to be discussed and contested. It’s simple mathematics. It’s simple enough to make you think, and what has become clearer than ever to me during this pedagogical exodus was this: some teachers are downright unaware of the socio-political implications of their jobs, some teachers aren’t aware because they are afraid to be aware, and some teachers are aware and are unapologetically self-preserving despite ethical compromise. I won’t argue percentages, but all three of the realities played a role in educators leaving the community they serve unheard.
- It was also extremely interesting to see that nobody who runs the teacher’s union was present at
this board meeting. You would think that if a board is voting on a proposal that you want to succeed, you would be there to see if it gets accepted. But then again…why would you show up to figure out if your desires were met when you already know they will be? The community that the teacher’s union serves showed up to this meeting with hopes that they will be heard and make an impact on a decision that as far as they knew hadn’t been made yet. The uncertainty is a large reason they showed up! Yet the union was gone. They got the contract ratified without a single contract advocate vocally present in the board meeting, and didn’t have to dialogue with the community about it. Ladies and gentlemen, I learned a lesson about power that night.
- I came to the realization that a Board Meeting is structurally designed in a matter that can easily kill any internalization or acceptance of new ideas. The speak outs and celebrations are often in the beginning, than after that Robert’s rules of order, political jargon and legalese that only a few understand dissipates the energy and logical arguments that could have potentially re-informed decisions, cultivate more cognitive dissonance, and have new perspectives authentically internalized. But instead, whatever active listening that was going on before the mind numbing (for observers and Board Members themselves) could have easily been deactivated by the time it came to actually voting. Convictions and new thoughts can be lost in the forest of bureaucratic language and processes. In fact, it got me thinking. What would happen of the education policy passers of the board did this job with an educator’s framework? In other words, they run board meetings like a classroom that attempts to get community members engaged and grow their understanding by differentiating policy language and making the process more interactive. The community will be more invested in policy, and the board will be more invested/sympathetic towards their goals of creating a better education experience. Make sense right? But it also makes an informed public, and may also make a conflict of interest at times…
- I saw an attempt on behalf of the Board President to be diplomatic about the language on crime in the teacher’s union contract and use it as an opportunity to change some language and try to get the teacher’s union to be held accountable in regards to its hard core rejection of the essential elements of the new code of conduct. This consideration of the code of conduct is supposed to happen over the next month or so. While this is a formidable response, I go back to power. Based on delay tactics that I’ve seen previously from the union regarding this code of conduct and task force work, it is clear to me that this could easily be a situation where the union got could drag out its lack of intention to follow through. The semi-language change and code of conduct “commitment” may not change the union’s original intent, but instead it may change the means in which they accomplish the original intentions. Why follow through on a compromise when you already got want you wanted out of it? Power lesson #2.
- This man who decided to communicate his outrage with the vote through yelling obscenities that were laced with concern about student disservice, through physically confronting two board members, throwing the gavel, and by knocking down the American flag was a white man. The color blind and the bigotry-inundated are waiting for the relevance still…this moment in time during the meeting perfectly encapsulated the community’s issues with the racial subjectivity of what gets labeled and who gets labeled criminal. How sad is it that our responses to the reckless behavior of a grown white man would be treated less criminal than what could have happened if he was a 16 year old black child. This man wasn’t even booted out of the room, let alone out of the building after all of that.
Granted, he has since been suspended from attending board meetings for a while, but the immediacy of expulsion wasn’t there despite his destruction. An immediacy that too many black and brown children wrongly face in our district. A fallacious immediacy that is permitted by a contract that was just accepted by the board, a board who had just experienced a lesson on racial criminalization right in front of their faces. In fact, even the language of the news reports totally downplayed how volatile this man was. Words like “irate,” “outburst,” and “upset” were soft and inaccurate words that were used by the media to describe this man and his actions. Peaceful BlackLivesMatter protesters and angry students of color would be so lucky to be labeled as such. There are reasons why the predominantly black community members of the meeting didn’t do/haven’t done what that white man did. Not necessarily because of an absence of anger, or an absence of desire, but an absence of privilege. Power lesson #3.
Just some thoughts and realizations. What a crazy time we live in…Peace and Progress.