School leaders had no warning before teachers staged 'sick out'

By Scott Pickering
Posted 2/1/19

Bristol Warren Regional School Department leaders had no warning before Kickemuit Middle School teachers staged a mass exodus from work today. Superintendent of Schools Mario Andrade said the …

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School leaders had no warning before teachers staged 'sick out'

Posted

Bristol Warren Regional School Department leaders had no warning before Kickemuit Middle School teachers staged a mass exodus from work today. Superintendent of Schools Mario Andrade said the “sick” notices began early afternoon and kept piling up into the evening.

“At 2 o’clock, we needed 10 teachers. Then as it kept going, we knew we needed a lot,” he said. “Up until about 7 p.m., we were okay. By 8:30 p.m. though, we had about 50 teachers who had called out sick, and we had no choice but to cancel school.”

A couple hours later, every middle school parent received a call notifying them that the school would be closed because of excessive teacher illnesses.

As of Friday afternoon, the superintendent had received no official comment, explanation or insights from teachers or their union. However, he had seen statements posted on Facebook and was aware of the unofficial explanation of what was happening and why.

“Everything I know of this has been through their comments on social media,” he said. “I’ve received nothing directly to my office.”

The underlying reason for the “sick out” is teacher frustration with behavior and disciplinary problems, as they see it, within Kickemuit Middle School. Mr. Andrade said he is very aware of the complaints about student behavior, bullying and disruptive behavior, and they have been working on solutions. He said teachers and administrators have met to work on new recommendations and strategies. Some have worked, some have not, he said.

This school year, they brought a new behavioral specialist into the school. They’ve introduced a new student-led group that tries to peaceably resolve conflicts and prevent fights. Mr. Andrade said they are working with the Town of Warren in hopes of getting a grant to station a school resource officer (police officer) within Kickemuit, starting next school year.

“Clearly, the teachers feel like more resources are needed, and we’ve heard them on that,” he said.

Asked whether the problems within Kickemuit are from a culture that’s affected the whole school and student population, or from a small group of kids, the superintendent indicated it is more the latter.

There is really just a handful of students,” he said. “Typically, 5 percent of the students make up 95 percent of the problems.”

Pressed for details, he said, “There are some students who get into fights, and then return to school after a suspension” and get into trouble again, “… and there are some who are rude and disrespectful.”

The ultimate step in disciplinary situations is to remove a student from school. However, the public school district cannot simply “kick out” students and send them out on the streets; they must find alternative placements. Mr. Andrade said that is a complicated legal process that takes time and can be more difficult if families do not cooperate.

Looking ahead to the short-term, the superintendent is hopeful things return to normal next week. “We hope they return on Monday, and because we’re all professionals, we all return to teaching and learning,” he said.

“I have the utmost respect for our teachers. They are second to none, and they are very professional, so I’m a little surprised by this action.”

Mr. Andrade also put his support behind Kickemuit Middle School Principal Christine Homen. "I am 100 percent supportive of her," he said.

School committee chairwoman

School committee chairwoman Erin Schofield, who was also surprised by the action and had no advanced warning, issued a statement Friday in response to media requests from throughout the region. She wrote:

I can’t speak for the full School Committee until we come together as a group. It seems to me, though, that when something like this happens, it’s because people want to be heard, and I will say that this School Committee wants to listen and to work together to ensure that there is a safe and welcoming environment at KMS, and all our schools, that allows our excellent teachers to do what they do best — provide our students with an excellent education.

This is a tough day for all of us in Bristol Warren. Surely it is for me, as both school committee chair and as a parent.”

Speaking by phone Friday afternoon, she said, “My role and our committee’s role is to fact-find, to sit at the table, to learn what the facts are, and to listen, and to get the right supports in place, so the teachers can do their jobs and the students can learn.”

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Scott Pickering

Scott Pickering has been on the East Bay Newspapers team for more than two decades, since starting as a reporter for the Sakonnet Times. He's been editor of most of the papers, was Managing Editor of all the papers for many years, and became General Manager in 2012. Today he can be found posting to EastBayRI.com, steering news coverage, writing editorials, talking to readers, working with the sales team, collaborating on design, or helping do whatever it takes to get the papers out the door. Reach him at spickering@eastbaynewspapers.com.