So two of five Riverside teachers who were put on leave last June have had their charges thrown out and are now cleared to return to work. Three teachers remain on leave and charged with insubordination. BPS Superintendent Kriner Cash believes they should all be terminated because they were told what to do but they didn't do it. Ironically and hypocritically at the same time Cash says they should have followed yet another folksy maxim he pulled out of thin air that says "work now, grieve later."
Well maybe "work now grieve later" is a good rule of thumb in a sane world and a reasonable working climate, say Bethlehem Steel's coke ovens in the 1970's. Even in some very specific educational situations it might even hold water. When the admins deliberately flooded our 15:1 Special Ed cluster in the late 80's and early 90's until we had close to 20 kids in some of them --all with significant learning and behavior issues mind you-- a simpatico A.P. advised us off the record that City Hall said overload them and let them grieve it, there won't be any new classes opening to accommodate these kids. When there's nothing you can do and an admin is at least forthright enough to tell you it's out of his hands you pretty much have to teach now and grieve for another day.
But Kriner Cash knows better than anyone that this Riverside debacle is no simple overage claim. Overages disregard the student's I.E.P.'s and are essentially illegal but they happen when someone decides they aren't willing to spend the money to follow the law. NYSED doesn't get involved. Teachers are mollified some years down the road when their grievance results in a check that calculates a certain figure based on the number of kids in the class and the teacher's salary. It actually pays better if you have 6 kids in your class and barely pays if you have 15. So I know.
Teachers at Riverside were essentially put on administrative leave for refusing to break State Ed Department Law. Nowhere down the line were they in a position to benefit from either correcting against the law or following the law and not correcting. There was no financial or professional incentive either way but a funereal disincentive for either option. Kriner Cash, coming from the belly of the high stakes testing and ed reform beast as he does, is part of the entrenched faction who seeks to both sanctify and weaponize these kinds of tests. On one hand he treats them like the Dead Sea Scrolls with all of the attendant deference while seeking to use them as proof of teacher malfeasance should they come back with less than gritty and excellent scores. Bad scores mean teaching firings after all in the great ed reform manifesto. Cash and his ed reform enabler from Florida, State Ed Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia, who foisted Cash on BPS, are not inclined to take violations of test protocol lightly.
What the Assistant Principal of Riverside told these teachers to do -- start correcting exams when close to 100 exams were still in the hands of students-- is illegal and violates the test protocols of NYSED. Any teacher dumb enough or careless enough to engage in such an act faces certain consequences, termination being chief among them. As a point of reference, a guy from another district in the program where I teach last June read exams to kids who did not have that test modification as part of their I.E.P. The day after he did this and it was discovered he was escorted out of the building, placed on leave and from what I have been able to deduce was terminated some time before this January. In less than 6 months he was toast for reading to kids who weren't supposed to have exams read. Yet Kriner Cash tucks his tongue firmly in his cheek and calls for the Riverside teachers to be fired because they didn't ask how how high when an administrator told them to jump. Told them to jump into breaking State Ed law no less.
The fact that Riverside Assistant Principal Patrick J. Doyle ordered these teachers to break the law seems to have escaped Kriner Cash. He's got some kind of retro "Papa Knows Best" fixation on the 1950's concept that no matter what an authority figure tells you to do, you shut up and do it and ask questions later. Much later. Makes you wonder what Cash would've said to MLK in Birmingham Jail or Frederick Douglas when Edward Covey wound up to crack him with his bullwhip or to Harriet Tubman when she was rescuing runaway slaves from lives of brutality and desperation. Work now, grieve later? Do what you're told? Don't defy a direct order? I don't think so. I hope not. As one deeply indebted to the test fetishists of American Ed Reform, Kriner Cash has to be kidding when he says these teachers should have knowingly begun to correct state exams when nearly 100 other students were still taking them. It's a case of fired if you do and damned if you don't and he knows it. Yet he plays the doe eyed ingenue and you can almost hear him in a chicken fried Blanche Dubois drawl, sighing "Why they defied a duh-reckt oadaaahhh... and theh's naught fuh them but term-in-aaay-shun!" He might as well have said Damnation while he was at it.
Come on Dr. Cash. Cut with the coy theatrics and stand tall for a change. You know and we know any teacher who'd correct those papers before the rest of them were all turned in would be fired in the time it takes Lars Quinn to run out his jib sail. You and your reformy pals would have your Salem's Lot moment running around in a circle chanting about the sanctity of test protocol and let this be a lesson and this aggression will not stand, ad nauseam. And if the wind caught your flames just right you could all end up on MSNBC and CNN, you and Larry Quinn and Mary Ellen Elia and maybe John King his own little diabolical self would toss you a tweet or a video clip congratulating you for protecting the maidenhead of the test from those mongol teacher hordes with their coffee breath and lustfully sensible loafers. You'd have milked it for all you're worth and who knows but it might even catch the eye of a larger district looking for their Superman. I hear Pittsburgh's honeymoon with a hero is on the rocks...
But perish the luck some teachers forced into a bad situation had the wherewithal and the stones to refuse to be bullied into breaking the law and for that they were forced to twist in the wind for an entire school year wondering if their teaching career was finished. You need to end this farce and send these teachers a personal apology. And then you need to have a short but extremely focused meeting with Patrick J. Doyle, his supervising Principal on the day in question, their union rep and the H.R. chief. We'll trust you to do the right thing. Just don't take a year to do it.