School Talk

Teacher’s Lawsuit Doesn’t Tell Us the Whole Story. Court Testimony Will.

I should know better than to believe—or disbelieve— something just because it’s stated in a lawsuit. Last night I read a story in the Providence Journal about a veteran first grade teacher, Mary Chisholm, who is suing the district of Warwick over what she is calling a failure of the district to provide special education services to her students. She ascribes that failure to the egregious number of absences of her special education certified co-teacher. Chisholm is currently on leave.

Chisholm’s suit states that the root cause of the problem involved the numerous absences of the particular special-education teacher who was assigned to partner with her in her classroom as part of a “collaborative class model.”

Providence Journal

The number of absences of the special educator is so gasp-worthy that for me, it became the shiny object in the story. Here’s what happened in my head: Of course the plaintiff is right because I’m so mad right now about her co-teacher missing 55 days last year and 68 days the year before.

And those numbers are staggering. But they aren’t an excuse for my lazy thinking and knee-jerk reaction. I don’t have enough information to draw any conclusions, other than one about the insane number of sick days that teachers in the city of Warwick are still contractually entitled to take in a year. You wouldn’t believe it if I told you. **

Twitter quickly set me straight when a guy I’ve never heard of named Kenny Campbell pointed out that the teachers were using a co-teaching model—Phil Thornton, the superintendent of Warwick schools, did confirm for me that Warwick does currently use a co-teaching model in its inclusion classrooms.

Until we hear sworn testimony from Chisholm, students, parents, school administrators and others who work in the building, we don’t know anything other than the claims laid out in the lawsuit. Our natural tendency is to pay attention to the first headline when a story appears in the paper or on our phone screen—we rarely sustain our attention long enough to see how the story actually plays out. And since I already failed on day one, I speak from experience when I say that we’d be wise to pump the brakes and wait before we jump to conclusions about where the truth lies.

The article implies that there were not any substitutes for the many days the special education teacher was out but we don’t if that means that there were a few days without a sub or if it means that for 68 days, no sub coverage was provided. We do not know anything about how the children with special needs in her class are doing now? Are they struggling? Are they thriving? We know nothing about Chisholm’s fidelity to the IEPs of the students in her class. And we don’t know if any of what’s happening now was driven by parents of children with special needs who had complained or expressed concern about what was happening in the class.

Chisholm contends that she was forced to go on leave because the district got word that she was planning to file a lawsuit. Due to the litigation, the district won’t comment on that or any other details related to case.

Time—and testimony under oath if it gets to a courtroom—will tell.

**The answer is 90. Warwick teachers are entitled to 90 sick days out of a 180 day school year.

What do you think?

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