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Commentary: NEA Rhode Island on lay-off notices…Just follow the rules

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All our teachers and education support professionals have made incredible sacrifices during this pandemic and stay-at-home order. Educators and support professionals turned classroom learning into distance learning in a matter of days and, by working directly with Governor Raimondo’s office, Rhode Island has led the way in development and implementation. People across the country are looking to Rhode Island to continue to set the example.

That is why it is shameful to see some superintendents and school committees take advantage of budget uncertainty by playing fast and loose with layoff notices. We understand fully that non-renewal letters, or layoff notices, are required by law until an understanding of the budget is ascertained and workers are recalled as soon as the uncertainty is resolved. That is the process in Rhode Island. But layoffs need to follow the normal budgetary procedure, and management must adhere to underlying law and collective bargaining agreements as part of that process.

Unfortunately, the Tiverton superintendent sent the wrong letter with the wrong terminology and that exacerbated an already volatile situation with the termination of the union local president. A situation which is currently in litigation. Other districts made presumptions without checking with the Governor’s office prompting the rumor mill to churn and stress levels to rise when educators and support professionals are already stretched thin.

The facts are these: the last day for students and teachers is June 18 per the Governor. All other laws, contracts, and educational policies remain in place. Actions outside of what the law requires regarding non-renewals is, not only a violation of contracts, but a failure to meet the basic education needs of every student by eliminating positions such as art, music, library, counselors, and school nurse teachers which are essential, especially now.

We simply request that management adhere to the procedures in place. If one isn’t familiar with the procedures, perhaps ask another who is in the know before sending letters of non-renewal to the hard-working Rhode Islanders educating our students and tending to their social and emotional needs during an unprecedented time in our history.

Mr. Walsh is National Education Association Rhode Island Executive Director.

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