School Talk

Three Teachers are Gone as School Community Begins to Heal

Blackstone Valley Prep has rightly severed its relationship with three teachers because, simply put, there is no defense for the indefensible. Even when it occurs within an organization that we admire. Even when it occurs in an organization that we are part of.  And especially not when kids (and their parents) have been let down, hurt, and disparaged by the teachers in whom they’ve put their trust and confidence.

And so, here I am, condemning the actions of a few teachers at Blackstone Valley Prep High School for a series of thoughtless, mean comments about students and parents that were shared on the internal communications platform ‘Slack’ which allows teachers to direct message and “chat” with one another.

Blackstone Valley Prep is a network of charter schools in Rhode Island that grew out of the fundamental belief of a Mayor, Dan McKee (who is now the RI Lieutenant Governor), that all kids, regardless of income or background or race, can learn, together. Seven years ago, the first Kindergarten class enrolled in what would ultimately be a network of five schools – three elementary, two middle, and one high school.

This school is special. It is uniquely diverse because it serves two suburban and two urban districts and has a weighted lottery that requires that at least 50 percent of its students come from low income families. BVP has struggled mightily to secure facilities and to beat back the ugly politics of those who want to shut them down.  But they’ve seen unprecedented outcomes for students. I know. My kids go there. I have worked there. I love the school.

But I am so disappointed that a few individuals whose job it was to honorably represent the school have instead tarnished its name, overshadowed its recently earned commended status, and reflected badly on fellow teachers who would never show such utter disrespect to kids or parents.  And while they believed their communications were private and didn’t expect a student to hack into the system and share their ugly comments with the world, that doesn’t really matter now.

So much to celebrate and yet here we are, working through pain, disappointment, and broken trust inflicted, by a number of teachers we can count on one hand. Their words about students and parents are not pretty. In fact, they are downright repugnant.

Anyone who has ever worked in a school or spent a few minutes in a teachers’ lounge can confirm that teachers often say awful things about kids and parents. Truth is, those teachers who create toxic environments and disparage those they serve are usually able keep their jobs for decades. I suppose if there’s any silver lining, it’s that Blackstone Valley Prep is uniquely able to ensure that teachers who fail to show respect to students and parents don’t get to remain on the job.

Teachers need and deserve to vent, of course. Everyone does. But venting about a frustrating day with students, a frustrating interaction with a parent, or a frustrating situation with colleagues is not the same as using profanity and slurs to disparage students who trust you. Disagreeing with how a parent is handling a situation with their child is not grounds for offensive and expletive laden commentary.  Mocking a student for something with which you know they struggle — like spelling — is just mean.

We can’t demand respect from students or inundate them with anti-bullying messages only to engage in that very same behavior behind their backs. Students and families deserve much better than that. Executive Director, Jeremy Chiappetta, agrees:

I want to be crystal clear, many of the comments written are deeply disturbing and offensive.  As the founding school leader, executive director of the organization, and as a parent of three scholars in the program, I am deeply saddened and disappointed.  Parents put their trust in teachers and the school, and that trust has been violated.

The school’s leadership, many of whom have their own children enrolled in the very schools they run, has the opportunity to make this right. The quick severing of ties with three teachers is a strong start as is the frequent and open communication they’ve been providing to parents since they first learned of the situation. Any others who may have been tangentially involved have the opportunity to own their mistakes, apologize to the community, and be part of the healing process.

It won’t be easy but it can be done. I’m confident it will be. 



What do you think?

8 thoughts on “Three Teachers are Gone as School Community Begins to Heal

  1. Bravo!! Bravo to a school that can sever ties when a teacher acts inappropriately. I know a number of your students and they have always exemplified pride, kindness and respect. You should be proud.

    1. My grandchildren attend your school and I’v never seen them learn so quick and they are very happy to go to school every day. They are smart, respectful to their elders,and very proud of themselves for all they excel in.

  2. BVP did not sever ties – they accepted resignations from 3 teachers. Three teachers severed ties with BVP. Shame on BVP for not terminating these teachers and instead accepted resignations. Where are the consequences for these teachers? How are BVP students and families expected to understand consequences, accountability and personal responsibility if BVP allows these teachers to take the easier way out? Shame on BVP administration for using ambiguous wording like “ended its relationship” which given the circumstances implies that the teachers were terminated not allowed to resign!!!! If BVP hopes to repair their relationship with its students and families – they should have started with being straight forward and honest NOT ambiguous!

    1. These 3 teachers were irresponsible, unprofessional, and careless in their actions. Do you really believe they aren’t facing consequences? They’ve had their names in the news and on social media for everyone to publicly judge them as bad people and are now no longer employed as teachers. They certainly won’t be teaching anywhere again, and it’s very likely they’re going to have a difficult time finding decent employment as any google search of their name is going to bring up this incident. For two of these individuals, this is their first job out of college. What difference does it make whether they were fired or allowed to resign?

      1. The only consequences that they are facing is that they currently do not have a job and their name has been plastered over some media outlets – neither of which BVP had anything to do with. While I certainly hope these people never teach again – it is unlikely given a resignation which means they can state that they chose to quit their jobs especially given the fact this occurred at the end of the year. The female teachers involved may marry someday – change their names – and any Google search would come up empty regarding this incident. They can move on, hopefully mature but SHOULD NOT teach. My major objection against resignation is that BVP allowed these teachers to take the easier way out – something they would never accept from their students and that the administration used ambiguous language and we’re not straight forward regarding the manner of why these teachers are no longer employed there!

      2. Chuck – It makes a big difference; especially when it comes to challenging unemployment (my guess is BVP is going to be on the hook for these folks’ unemployment unless the BVP counsel is allowed to enter the teachers’ comments into evidence at a hearing) and when it comes to how the teachers’ files look.

        Granted, if this was a unionized faculty, there would be a grievance and then a deal struck (because even with what seems to be an open and shut case for dismissal, the legal costs of due process often exceed the cost of seeing termination through). The deal most likely would be to simply file a “the teacher worked here and left” letter with no mention of the actions and some period of benefits. Now one would hope other districts know those letters mean “something” happened, but the let’s face it, bad teachers get rehired. Granted, if the teacher had less than the 2-3 years (whatever it is) to get “tenure”, it would be easier for the traditional district as well. But there is a difference in saying “fired” versus “resigned” – especially for a young person – pretty easy to say “I wanted to move, etc.”

        One difference this does show is giving management more power in cut and dry cases does make taking action easier; the quick resignations were due to the fact there would be far less ability here for the teachers to impose costs on the district in the termination process.

        I’m sure Ms. Sanzi as a former school board member can confirm that point.

  3. Odd that you never pointed out that these were TFA teachers. Perhaps in those 5 weeks of training there wasn’t enough time to mention that saying hurtful things about students is a bad idea.

    1. I appreciate you reading the piece. I’ve never noticed teacher prep programs being mentioned in stories about teachers who find themselves the subject of disciplinary action for things they say and/or write about kids. Additionally, even with the Rubber Room in NY or the Teacher Jail in Los Angeles, no mention is made of their prep programs. I don’t think we want to get into the practice of blaming teacher prep for bad behavior by teachers. A quick search will show you that the vast majority of teachers disciplined come out of traditional prep programs. I’m certainly not about to blame them for the bad actions of their alumni.

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