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.