Are you among the many students confused and unsettled by the latest events affecting MHS clubs, after-school activities and extra help from teachers? After word slowly got out to students over the weekend about the cancellation of almost all after school club activities and teacher refusal to offer extra help to students during lunch and after school, classes were abuzz with conversation about a new “work to contract” union mandate as a result of a teachers’ contract impasse. In other words, most teachers, beginning today, February 26th, will use this bargaining tactic and will stop providing any and all volunteer work that is not required by their contract. The impasse was declared when contract negotiations stalled over the last two weeks.
A mediator has since been brought in to help both BOE and MEA reach an agreement on the new contract. Overall, MHS students of all grades seemed to be worried about the teacher/board conflicts and the affect it will have on their extracurriculars. Many teachers had discussions with their classes about the impasse today, explaining what the union is instructing teachers to do and why.
One MHS teacher, who talked off the record, stated that if an agreement was not met last night at the board meeting, teachers planned to unite in arriving at school exactly at 7:50 am and leaving the building en masse at exactly 2:53 pm. Teachers have also begun refusing to sign the Guidance Department’s packets for juniors that require comments from three teachers about a student’s performance in class. Rebecca Chevat, 11, expressed frustration with the obstacles caused by the impasse. “I had my junior meeting a few weeks ago and was told by my guidance counselor that I needed teacher signatures for guidance recommendations. I asked several teachers to sign my junior packet, however many of them declined and/or refused to sign it giving no specific reason. It was really confusing to me after I had been told teachers would sign it. I later learned that their refusal was because of the teacher contract dilemma.” Many students are becoming worried at their teachers’ refusals to sign, especially because guidance counselors set due dates on the junior packet. Some students unaware of negotiations interpreted their teachers’ refusal to sign personally.
Most meetings and activities planned for clubs, with the exception of a few stipend clubs like Model UN and NOW club, are being put on hold. Sarah Bjerklie, a member of the Latin Club said that, “Latin Club’s bake sale that was planned for Tuesday had to be cancelled because of this contract issue. This was really disappointing because we had scheduled this weeks ago! I just hope this issue is resolved soon for everyone’s sake.”
At last night’s Board of Education meeting, a packed room of MEA members and parents cheered following statements of support for teachers for their excellence and dedication to Montclair’s students. One MHS parent, Linda Bowers, applauded both the MEA and the BOE for their good work over the years, but expressed concerns that the students are being used as pawns in contract negotiations. Bowers was interrupted several times by MEA members who called out “no” and “absolutely not”.
Several MHS students including Elena Tsemberis, Jessie Gugig, Izzy Levy and Susette Malloy publicly praised Montclair teachers citing their academic and extracurricular experiences, receiving loud applause and standing ovation. Tsemberis said that, “teachers deserve everything they are asking for and more…if the teachers are not taken care of then students will not be either.”
While the MEA and the BOE disagreed on many things tonight, both parties seemed to agree with Board President Robin Kulwin’s statement that “the needs of the children come first.” Whether or not all teachers agree with the MEA’s work to contract mandate, it appears that students must now do without the extra academic help, clubs and activities that they have come to rely on.