Commentary: Shallow Learning displayed by Barrington School Committee

Posted 2/23/22

By Dr. Kevin M. Blanchard, Ed.D., NBCT

For several years the Barrington Public Schools have been engaged in an effort to promote and instill Deep Learning in our graduates. 

Citizenship, …

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Commentary: Shallow Learning displayed by Barrington School Committee


By Dr. Kevin M. Blanchard, Ed.D., NBCT

For several years the Barrington Public Schools have been engaged in an effort to promote and instill Deep Learning in our graduates. 

Citizenship, character, communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking are the six Deep Learning competencies, and they are reflected in our schools’ curricula, classrooms and, of course, our mission statement: “Barrington Public School’s mission is to empower all students to excel in character, citizenship, collaboration, creativity, communication, and critical thinking, so that they may positively impact the future.”

At Barrington High School, “The Six Cs” of Deep Learning have similarly made their way into our Senior Project, a graduation requirement for all students, and our Vision of the Graduate.

So why do the adult members of the Barrington School Committee seem to have such a hard time demonstrating these “competencies” to our students and the public they serve?

On February 10, the school committee refused to meet in person with three teachers who did not receive the COVID-19 vaccination for religious reasons and were terminated in October as a result. Instead, the members of the committee have insisted on a virtual meeting with these teachers and their representatives because they remain unvaccinated.

This despite the fact that Barrington and the state of Rhode Island are allowing in-person meetings. And Governor Dan McKee recently lifted the mask mandate for businesses and other venues across the state and will do so for public schools on March 4.

Why can’t these teachers sit before the school committee tomorrow night for their post-termination appeal hearing? Masked, of course, and that’s precisely the point.

In this way, Gina Bae, Amanda Regino Basse, Patrick McCrann, Dr. Megan P. Douglas, and Erika Sevetson have displayed one of “The Six Cs” of Shallow Learning: cowardice.

The others are cacaphony, carelessness, collusion, condescension and confusion—all of which the committee has demonstrated in various ways in recent months and which we certainly do not seek to instill in our students.

Still, a recent decree from the governor may allow them to kick the can down the road—for at least a little while longer.

According to The Boston Globe, a new executive order allows public meetings in Rhode Island to continue to take place online until March 19. 

In short, their stonewalling has been sanctioned and may continue. But why?

After the cancellation of the scheduled in-person post-termination appeal hearing, the Barrington Times reported: 

“Greg Piccirilli, the attorney for the teachers, said the lawyer for the school committee, Sara Rapport, told him there are some “members” who are in contact with vulnerable individuals and are concerned about holding an in-person hearing with a large number of unvaccinated people in attendance who won’t wear their masks properly. 

“I was speechless,” Mr. Piccirilli said, referring to Ms. Rapport’s comments. “What an offensive thing to say. It’s staggering to me… the ‘great unwashed.’”

Offensive, staggering and hypocritical, Mr. Piccirilli. 

Perhaps this is why my colleagues and me have seldom if ever seen a school committee member at BHS this year during the school day when 60 unvaccinated students attend classes and roam the hallways along with their peers who did receive medical or religious exemptions and the growing number of teenagers who just “won’t wear their masks properly”?

Perhaps this is why my colleagues and me—who also are in contact with “vulnerable individuals” in their lives outside of school—often dread coming to work, upgrade their masks at their own expense and are asked to remind recalcitrant students to “mask up” only to face rebuke and derision for being “mask cops” or worse?

Perhaps this is why staff morale and mental health at BHS are as low as I’ve seen them in my 29 years of teaching your adolescent children?

We ask our students to strive for proficiency in Citizenship and we as teachers are charged with providing them models and opportunities to help them reach the following level of understanding and agency in this area: 

“Learners have a high level of comfort and interest in tackling real-world problems that are open-ended and unstructured, in which they have to create a perspective or way of looking at the issue rather than have one framed for them.” 

It would be refreshing if our school committee took this charge upon themselves so that they, too, may positively impact the future.

Mr. Blanchard is the chairman of the English department at Barrington High School.

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