Letter: Teacher’s choice of words was disturbing

Posted 9/20/22

To the editor:

It took me a while to write this article. My family and I were debating whether we should go public with what happened to my son, Luke, in March 2022. We have waited long enough, …

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Letter: Teacher’s choice of words was disturbing


To the editor:

It took me a while to write this article. My family and I were debating whether we should go public with what happened to my son, Luke, in March 2022. We have waited long enough, and now with school starting, parents and families should know what happened.

I don’t really know how to begin, so I will start with the facts.

Mr. Blanchard is the English Department Chair at the Barrington High School and is in favor of “delevelling”. “Delevelling” is a curriculum change Barrington High School implemented for the 2021-2022 school year. It includes removing English and Social Studies honors classes, as well as removing conceptual classes. I am happy to say they did eventually decide to bring back honors classes for 2022, after many people, like my son Luke, spoke up.

In March 2022, my son Luke Van Ness was in Mr. Blanchard’s American Literature class, and he was working on a class assignment called persuasive speech. The assignment involved writing a speech about something you care about. Luke presented two ideas to Mr. Blanchard, one of which was about “delevelling” and how it isn’t working as planned. Mr. Blanchard encouraged Luke to pick this topic and suggested that he should go to the school committee meeting.

On Wednesday night, March 30, 2022, at the Barrington school committee meeting Luke bravely spoke up against “delevelling”.

On Friday, April 1, Mr. Blanchard was out, and the co-teacher was running the class. Luke wanted to gather information about “delevelling” from the class for his persuasive speech assignment. He asked the co-teacher to put a survey on Canvas, so the class could fill out the survey. The co-teacher put the survey up and let the class know about the survey.

Friday, April 1, 2022, Luke was waiting for the bus with his teammates. The bus was taking the high school volleyball team to a game against Woonsocket. He looked at his phone to see this email from his English teacher, Mr. Blanchard:

Subject: Survey and Announcement

Thanks, Luke. I don’t mind you in my personal email box, but I do take offense to you invading my classroom space. Your passion is noted but your methods verge on the criminal.

Any questions on your persuasive speech?

Truly, I hope you decided to address “delevelling” as it is something about which you obviously care deeply as do I.

Have a good weekend and watch your back….

Mr. B

After reading this email, Luke showed it to some of his teammates, their reaction was one of shock. Luke waited until he got home to show the email to me and my wife, Pam. I can’t tell you how many times I have read this email. I’ve shared it with numerous friends and family, and the reaction is always one of shock and disgust.

I emailed the principal at the time, Principal Hurley, over that weekend, and he called me first thing Monday morning. I kept Luke home, because his first period class was with Mr. Blanchard. Mr. Hurley had not looked at the email I sent him until we talked, so he said he would investigate it and call us back. After about 10 to 15 minutes, he called us back. He told us he talked to Mr. Blanchard and the co-teacher and confirmed that Luke had done nothing wrong. He said Mr. Blanchard knew that he had made a mistake, without a doubt. We then all agreed that it would be best to move Luke out of Mr. Blanchard’s class.

When you read the first part of Mr. Blanchard’s email it appears that he is trying to say that Luke did something criminal. On our initial phone call with Mr. Hurley, he mentioned hearing from a tech specialist about a survey that was posted on canvas. I am assuming Mr. Blanchard wrongfully thought Luke somehow posted the survey about “delevelling” without permission. Before accusing my son of criminal behavior, he simply could have just emailed the co-teacher to understand what happened.

We wanted to know what Mr. Blanchard’s punishment would be, if any. Mr. Hurley informed us that he could not tell us because it was a personal matter. I then emailed the superintendent, Mr. Messore, and the school committee to explain what happened and to see if we could find out if there were any repercussions for Mr. Blanchard’s actions. Unfortunately, I received the same answer.

Mr. Blanchard’s choice of words is disturbing. He is telling my son to “watch your back….”.

As soon as I read it, I immediately looked up the definition of “watch your back.” According to the Cambridge Dictionary the definition is: idiom- to be careful of the people around you, making certain that they do nothing to harm you.

A teacher in a position of power was using this type of language with a student and he was foolish enough to put it in an email. I have coached for many years in Barrington: Basketball, football, and lacrosse. In coaching, like teaching, you are in a position of power. Your goal is to create a safe and friendly environment where students or players can flourish and learn. This type of threatening and intimidating language is never a good idea.

This is a story that parents in Barrington need to know about. In the end, we told Luke to continue to be brave and speak up, regardless of the possible consequences, to always use your voice to speak up about things you believe in, and that, sometimes, life is not fair. We still do not know what Mr. Blanchard’s punishment was, if any.

I did email Mr. Hurley to request that none of my kids ever get assigned to one of Mr. Blanchard’s classes. He agreed to honor this request.

Concerned Parents,

Craig and Pam Van Ness


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