Students Hold Protest in Light of Recent Layoffs

Full Disclosure: Carlos Aragon was involved in the student walkout.

Over the past year, the situation regarding teachers has been quite clear in Malden Public Schools; there aren’t enough. Yet on Thursday, May 12th, according to the Superintendent's office, 63 employees, possibly more, were given non-renewal notices across the district. This figure is a little less than 10% of the entire workforce at Malden Public Schools. According to the Malden Educators Association, however, 105 educators were non-renewed.

Upon hearing the news, many students were surprised and angry; while nobody knew what teachers had been laid off for sure (and outside of the central office, there is no definitive list at the time of writing), a few names of teachers struck a nerve among the student body.

Senior Sammi Nie stated that when she heard the news that a bunch of teachers received non-renewal letters, she and Senior Juliana Davidson, Armani Dure, and Mayada Giha immediately took action. 

“We didn’t really think about it that much, we just did it… we decided to prioritize the protest, and started making the little handouts at lunch… it went pretty smoothly,” Nie said.

Giha added, “We didn’t really hesitate or waste time planning; it was just Monday, Period 4. Let's make the poster, send the poster out, have everyone repost it.”

One faculty member anonymously commented that the efforts were truly heartwarming stating, “I love the fact that our students care so much about our staff in this building.”

At 12:45, an enormous crowd of students marched to city hall in support of their teachers. Students chanted phrases such as “UNITED WE STAND!” and “GET HER OUT!” as they made their voices heard throughout the city. At around 1:45, the students left since there was no response from city or school officials.

Senior Vincent Lin said that he was yelling at the top of his lungs. Lin angrily commented about the lack of communication from the superintendent to the schools and the lack of explanation behind the non-renewals. “As a student of Malden High, I will not let that happen,” Lin stated. 

Junior Meryem Hakkaoui expressed frustration towards the lack of response to the protest. “I was screaming, yelling at the top of my lungs, begging for the superintendent and the mayor to say something…; no one from the city council addressed it, they were all hiding in the office.” Hakkaoui added that school and city leaders “always encourage students to speak up, and [now that] we speak up about an issue that’s very prevalent to society right now, they decide to be quiet and don’t even support us.”

Malden High Class of 2021 Graduate Billy Zeng returned to support his old teachers and the students and to make sure everyone was protesting safely. “I felt really energized, proud of all the students coming out, trying to make their voices heard.” Zeng added that the student voice aspect of the protest was something that the city “needs to be better at.”

Students were also quick to use their voices to put pressure on the central office, flooding them with emails about the situation.

On Friday, at 6:28 pm, the Superintendent’s office released a press release stating that 63 teachers had received non-renewal letters due to various reasons, as pictured below.

Screenshot Taken from the Superintendent’s Press Release.

To reveal the reason behind the non-renewal, they stated that “As in past years, pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 71 § Section 41 and in accordance with our contractual obligations, the district is required to issue non-renewal letters to some staff due to different circumstances.”

To be brief, Chapter 71, Section 41 of the Mass. General Laws states that teachers that have worked in a school district for three years shall be given professional status. Any teacher without professional status must be notified of their employment status before June 15th; if they receive no notice, then they continue working the following year until they either acquire professional status or receive a non-renewal another year.

MEA President Deborah Gesualdo stated that as of Monday, May 16th, there was still a large amount of confusion surrounding the high number of non-renewals and why there were so many. “I don’t have a list, I should have one, but I don’t… I have not received any information from the Superintendent's office.” In addition to a lack of names, Gesualdo also stated that the MEA has received no substantial information regarding the reasoning behind the high number of non-renewals. “I still don’t know how we got to where there’s a deficit… we’re fortunate that the Massachusetts Education Association is an affiliate of the teacher’s association… so we’re hoping maybe they can help us unpack what’s actually led to the point where we’re at now.”

Gesualdo went on to express frustration towards the lack of communication between the MEA and the Superintendent's office. “This year has been a tough year for a lot of people, communication from the superintendent’s office has been inconsistent… people have found it confusing. I think this current situation that we’re all in shows the opacity of the communication, things have not been transparent… the teachers, the nurses… all those people who fall under the umbrella of educators, we are not a welcome voice at the table.”

“I don’t think anyone anticipated that there would be [non-renewals], there’s been federal money coming in through the CARES act, ARPA, ESSER grants, that’s all federal money that has been coming in as COVID relief… looking at that, it really came out of left field for a lot of people; with funding at what seems to be an all-time high, it’s really confusing as to how we got to where we are with a deficit and why there’s a deficit,” Gesualdo expressed.

Another anonymous faculty member commented that part of the problem is likely the unfamiliarity with the new superintendent. “School districts always have budget slashes… the numbers are always going down, classes are always filling up because teachers are leaving… you expect a certain number, but when it's a high number and trust hasn’t been built yet, it feels like someone from the outside is taking away community leaders from a community they don't understand.”

Dr. Noriega-Murphy held a meeting with faculty on May 18th in the Jenkins Auditorium at Malden High School and met with caregivers at 6:00 pm virtually. 

She is holding one today, on May 19th, in order to meet with any students who have questions about the budget.

Photos by Carlos Aragon except where noted.

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