Teachers Protest Superintendent’s Action

Heavy feelings were the sign of the day at City Hall, as the Malden Education Association staged a protest against the sitting Superintendent, Dr. Ligia Noriega-Murphy. As the School Committee prepared for a meeting on the night of Monday, June 8, some teachers and students of the city were there and ready to protest, calling for the superintendent’s resignation.

The teacher’s union had held a vote of no confidence in the superintendent’s tenure, resulting in an absolute majority of over 99% of the teachers who voted in favor of the no-confidence resolution of Dr. Noriega-Murphy and presented the resolution at the meeting during the open comment period. Leading the speakers before the meeting was Deborah Gesualdo, president of the teacher’s union. Gesualdo introduced several speakers before the start of the school committee meeting, and each story of every person connected to the education system, underscoring its impact. A small forest of signs could be seen from atop the protestors, bearing slogans such as “Students Demand Fully Staffed Schools” and “Education Justice is Racial Justice”. 

At the protest, there was the presence of several other groups in support of the teacher’s union, such as several people from the MIT Graduate Student Union. Two people, Thejas Wesley and Daniel Shen, were at the protest supporting teachers. Wesley stated that his purpose for being there was to “support the local community.” There were also people at the protest who were completely unaffiliated with any groups, although their motivations for being at the protest were complex and ranged from showing solidarity with protestors to just being interested in what was occurring, or even just tagging along with some friends who were protesting.

Protestors applauding a speaker outside of City Hall. Photo taken by Gabriel Fesehaie

At 6:00 PM, the crowd of protestors assembled in the Herbert Jackson chamber, home of the school committee, and prepared to speak their minds at public comment. Leading the charge was a group of representatives for a joint statement from the MEA, calling upon the superintendent to resign her post after presenting the vote of no confidence. The teachers had seven main points that they wanted the school committee to implement:

  1. Non-renewals would be rescinded.
  2. Schools would be restaffed to acceptable levels.
  3. Transparency and good faith would be demonstrated in dealings with students.
  4. Transparency and good faith would be demonstrated in dealings with staff.
  5. Consistent and transparent communication would be demonstrated with unions, staff, and students.
  6. Voices would be given to all district stakeholders, including students and workers.
  7. Open communication would be given in regard to hiring and community decision making.

The teachers then resolved that if the conditions were not met, the superintendent should tender her resignation and the school committee should consider letting her go if she would not resign.

After this, the rest of the public comments occurred. There were many speakers opposed to Dr. Noriega-Murphy, eliciting large amounts of support from protestors. However, there were some comments in support of Dr. Noriega-Murphy, although they were definitely in the minority. As speakers took the podium in support of the superintendent, the room was quiet. In one instance, when a speaker in favor of the superintendent exceeded her allotted time, the mass of protestors raised two fingers in the air while a man yelled out “TIME!”, signifying her two minute time limit. The atmosphere in the committee meeting became heated.

Protesters shout down a pro-Noriega speaker by holding up two fingers, symbolizing the two-minute speaking time that all people had and that this speaker had overrun. Taken by Gabriel Fesehaie

After the public comment period had ended, all the protestors left. There were still groups of four or five hanging around the building, but by the time the first item on the school committee’s agenda was addressed, only eight or nine people were left out of the original crowd of more than 60. One of those still left was Jacob Augenstern, a 7th grade teacher at Salemwood. He mentioned that he was one of the teachers who lost his job , and was attending the protest. He had much to say about supporting the union, citing Malden as a working-class town, and saying that even if he did not get his job back, and someone else did, he would consider it a victory for the MEA.

It remains to be seen whether this protest was a success for the MEA, but it showed the power of the teacher’s union in organizing grassroots action. The full video of the school committee meeting is available online, and can be watched here.

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