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Teaching moment squandered.

Byline: Clive McFarlane

The courts have traditionally given school administrators wide leeway in managing speech in order to create a school environment that is safe, orderly and conducive to learning.

As such, North High School Principal Lisa Dyer has both a moral and an institutional obligation to call out any staff member she believes is endangering her ability to establish such an environment.

That Ms. Dyer called out one such individual, English teacher Janice Harvey, in a faculty email that was leaked to the press was unfortunate because it mimicked the public nature of this teacher's ongoing criticism of school administrators, students and community members.

Nevertheless, Ms. Dyer's action should not obscure her intention to make clear that while teachers may have the right to freely express their opinions, there is a difference between being a rabble-rouser and an educator.

The difference is not difficult to discern.

Rabble-rousers can get away with marginalizing students, parents and other members of their community, but educators should not. Rabble-rousers can wage a public campaign against school administrators trying to help young people successfully navigate their complex and trying world. Educators should not.

The controversy surrounding North High has been characterized by some as concerned educators rescuing the Worcester public schools from the misguided policies of its superintendent and her subservient principals.


What we have here is a cleverly manipulated campaign to manufacture and sustain the lie that Ms. Boone's policies have created a climate of mayhem and unrest at North High.

What we have here is the obligatory and defensive "I am not a racist'' push-back whenever anyone tries to open a serious discussion on race and its nexus to social and economic experiences in this country.

Lest we have forgotten, this particular campaign to discredit Ms. Boone and Ms. Dyer coincided with the two administrators' efforts to turn the tide on the disproportionately high suspension and expulsion rates of blacks, Latinos and special needs students.

Groups such as the National Education Policy Center have long suggested that these disproportionate and nationwide rates "raise questions about a school's disciplinary policies, discrimination, and the quality of a school's leadership and the training of its personnel.''

In 2013, Massachusetts moved to address this issue by revising its students discipline statute, requiring among other guidelines that educators "exercise discretion in deciding consequences for the student; consider ways to reengage the student in the learning process; and avoid using expulsion as a consequence until other remedies and consequences have been tried.''

It was against this background that fights among North High students were magnified to alarm the public that students were attacking faculty members and that Ms. Boone, in trying to meet the state's mandates, had gone too far.

But, even Ms. Harvey acknowledges that the "assaults on our assistant principals were not directly made against them; rather injuries resulted while these faculty members were attempting to stop fights.'' She noted that assistant principals have to separate "kids consumed by hurt and anger aimed at each other, not their teachers or administrators.''

The lesson to be learned here, then, is that in responding to the pain and anger students may have, educators seek out constructive remedies that unite individuals and communities. Rabble-rousers lean heavily on punitive measures that reinforce individual and community divisions.

Contact Clive McFarlane at
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Title Annotation:Local
Author:McFarlane, Clive
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Apr 3, 2015
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