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Berlin High Students Hold Sit-In To Protest Teacher's Non-Renewal

More than 100 students gather in auditorium to support teachers.

 

When students at Berlin High School heard that the contract for world language teacher Deb Cassidy was not going to be renewed, they took to the Internet and posted an online petition to save her job.

Tuesday morning a group of students went one step further as they held a sit-in to protest Cassidy and English teacher Mr. Ritz not being allowed to continue to teach at Berlin High School.

By the end of the sit-in, more than 100 students had gathered in the auditorium.

Lisa Andreana, a straight A student and member of the girl's soccer team, was one of the leaders of the sit-in.

"I guess I was the leader," Andreana said. "I saw what happened on Facebook and Twitter last night and I wanted to make a difference. I believe that the administration does not have the best interest of the students at heart. I think the administration has walked all over us, especially the seniors. Our new principal has come in and changed everything. I think it's more political than anything.

"Mrs. Cassidy was told that she didn't fit the vision of the school and that was why she wasn't having her contract renewed. If she doesn't fit the vision of the school what is the vision of the school? She has literally saved my life and cares more about her students than any teacher in the school. I got a concussion and missed a week of school. One of my teachers told me it wasn't her job to catch me up, I was on my own and Mrs. Cassidy helped me catch up even though it wasn't her subject. Our school motto when you walk in the doors is 'Let your voices be heard. We tried to do that but they didn't want to hear us."

Andreana said she thought little would change because Principal Fran Kennedy, who was in the building, would not come to the auditorium to speak to the students. Assistant Principal Janet Parlato talked to the students and took four pages of notes about why the students hoped Cassidy's job would be spared.

BHS student Tori Prokop said she felt betrayed. Tori helped the school and the Berlin BOE by giving tours of the school to show town residents the poor condition of the facility.

"Mr. Kennedy wouldn't even come in and talk to us," Prokop said. "They said he was in a meeting but what is more important than your students? He has not been good to us. Drama Club set up a meeting with him and it took three months for him to be there. He tried to take away senior court and he has taken away coffee, food and cell phones away from all students. We eat at 10:30 a.m. by the end of the day we are starving. He originally told the teachers they couldn’t have coffee either but then gave in and now they can have it."

As for Cassidy not being able to come back, Prokop said it made no sense.

"How could someone like that, who cares so much about her students, not fit into the vision of the school?" Prokop said. "She is one of the most inspirational teachers I have ever been around. She is always there to give advice and be a shoulder to cry on. I don’t get it."

The students met resistance from administrators and other students.

One student e-mailed Berlin Patch to say, "To put it simple, the majority of students participating in the protest today had it all set out in their mind's. They didn't want to see a teacher who they deemed perfect, to be removed from the school system. The words fired were thrown around, and although the end result is the same, the failure to resign her contract isn't all that personal. The reasons have yet to be cleared by administration, and quite frankly, I don't feel that they need to be. You hear it every day, "It's a tough economy," but things happen, and in any professional setting, the actions of the student body would be frowned upon. They may believe they stood up for what they believe in, but just because a single teacher allows you to have free reign within the confines of her room, doesn't mean she is invincible. The student body hurt the two teachers mentioned involved, as if dealing with their future unemployment wouldn't be hard enough, now the entire town, and anybody with access to any news network knows of their situation.

"It isn't the students place to skip class and sit in an auditorium. Disrupting the school day, and putting the hallways on lockdown was actually pretty aggravating, and painting profanities on the lockers about our principal, real mature. This makes the school look really bad, because this undisciplined group of students were allowed to cut class over an issue unrelated to them, all under the cover of freedom of speech."

Andreana said she was met by hurtful words by not only some students, but by an administrator.

"The people who think we did this just to skip class don't get it," she said. "We wanted to have a peaceful protest because we think this is wrong. That is it. I heard a teacher say that what we did 'was an embarrassment to the school.' How can standing up for what you believe in be an embarrassment to the school? We had kids from every group in the sit-in. We had kids from UpBeat, we had athletes, and we had honor students, members of the band and drama club. It was a cross-section of the school community. When I heard someone say that we embarrassed the school I was very hurt."

Michael Miller, a junior, attended the sit-in to support Cassidy.

“I went to protest Mrs. Cassidy not coming back,” said Miller, who had Cassidy as a teacher last year. “Me and Mitch Blanchette tried to get in the first time but (Assistant Principal) Mrs. Gagnon, Mr. Kennedy and (Student Resource Officer) Mr. Germain were all there so we were intimidated. We came back later and were able to go in.

“I’ll be honest I’m a slacker and didn’t do well in Mrs. Cassidy’s class, but I loved going there every day because she made it fun for us. It wasn’t just a free for all, like some kids say, she is a great teacher and mentor. One thing that bothered me was that we wanted to talk to Mr. Kennedy and he wouldn’t talk to us. Mrs. Parlato came in and listened to us, which we really appreciated. I went to the bathroom later and there were a group of teachers talking bad about Mrs. Parlato. What did she do except try to help the students. Isn’t that the right thing to do?”

Superintendent David Erwin, Principal Francis Kennedy and Assistant Principal Janet Parlato did not return calls for comment as of late afternoon.

Nicholas Mangiafico February 28, 2012 at 10:59 PM
Whoever said that the students were being immature and just staging the sit in to skip class is just being ridiculous. They were probably just a student that was upset that we were following the school's "motto" of "Let your voices be heard". The school did not even follow this as the principal did not even come an talk to us because he was "busy". In the case of the profanities, that was very immature and should not have been done, but truthfully, it is what we think of Mr. Kennedy as he doesn't even have the time to speak to the students of the school that he runs. We students were standing up for something they believed in, but our superiors were just ignorant and would not listen to us (excluding Mrs. Parlato). -Nick Mangiafico, Junior at Berlin High School.
Tyler Feger February 28, 2012 at 11:38 PM
Neither party can be 100% right here. We have to accept that we will not see eye to eye with administration, nor them with us. What we did was right and wrong from different standpoints. It was right that we stood up for our beloved teachers, but the administration is right in that they know the whole story. We have to agree to disagree. The administration sees it as a bunch of students just trying to get out of class, while we know what we really believe. The whole situation is based on false assumptions. Lets let bygons be bygons and let this play out as it will. We cannot risk hurting our teachers or staff anymore than we have.
Tori Prokop February 28, 2012 at 11:59 PM
Just so everybody knows, it is to my understanding the teachers being laidoff are being replaced next year. This means the whole "it's a tough economy" thing is invalid. The same money will be used with these teachers as the new ones, so why change it?
Nate Aroian February 29, 2012 at 12:29 AM
I agree with the student body but is this really going to help? I know that with all the press and attention towards the two of four teachers, who's contracts arn't being renewed, it makes finding a new job a lot harder. Just think about the future of the teachers you are protesting for. If nothing changes and they might have a very difficult time finding a new job. So before you do something think how it will effect the great teachers that you are fighting for.
Belinda Marcum February 29, 2012 at 01:26 AM
I am a parent of 2 students at BHS and I am very proud that all of you stood up for what you believed in. I think we as parents need to stand up against this principle who seems to be on nothing more then a power trip since the day he has walked through the doors of BHS, he has shown no concern for our children, and doesn't even have the consideration for them as human beings and take the time to speak to them and give them a real answer as to why all of this is happeneing, rather then some smoke and mirror story that they do not fit into his vision of BHS. And to you Mr. Kennedy you do not fit in my vision as a man who should have any say in my childrens future.
Kevin Cassidy February 29, 2012 at 02:17 AM
I would like you to look a little further into this matter. Contrary to what Mr. Erwin states, the three teachers were never told that " there was a possibility they might lose their jobs," they were told unequivocally that they would not be retained. In my wifes case, Debra Cassidy, she was told that if she put in her resignation by Thursday, he would write her a letter of recomendation. Also Mr. Erwin stated that " Principal Francis Kennedy met with the three teachers to talk about what may happen during the next couple of months." This too is not the case. He told her he had a vision and she doesn't fit in. What vision does he see? My wife reaches out to her kids and wants to be supportive of them. My wife goes to BHS Hockey games. Mr. Kennedy? My wife goes to the BHS boys and girls basketball games. Mr. Kennedy? My wife goes to BHS football games. Mr. Kennedy? My wife goes to BHS wrestling. Mr. Kennedy? The point I'm trying to make here is she cares for her kids during and after school. I remember going with her to the this years Senior night at a football game. and one of her students parents were unable to attend. My wife walked out with her. Mr. Kennedy I Thanks for your time. Mr. Cassidy
Lawrence Betterini February 29, 2012 at 02:17 AM
In my opinion, the fact that the student organized petition received over 500 signatures in 24 hours shows how much the student body will miss these teachers if the decision is not reconsidered. While some inappropriate action may have been taken, the student body did their best to peacefully petition and stay within their first amendment rights to express their feelings of the latest developments. The student body will continue to lawfully support these teachers until a final verdict has been reached.
Nick Armetta February 29, 2012 at 02:31 AM
So I read the entire argument for what is happening at BHS. I read what the students side is and the administrations side. But the students are completely right. administration said it was an 'embarrassment'... If students come away from high school learning only one thing, that thing would be to think for yourself. And that is exactly what the students have done, so while you are getting the heat from the press, overall you should be proud that your students fight for what they believe in. And though i do not go to BHS, i know almost all the seniors and a few underclassmen and everyone in my opinion is a very capable young adult. And if your motto is 'the place where your voice is heard', you should live up to that and listen to at least what they have to say. At least the vice principle did so and then other members of administration is saying bad things about her? at least she lived up to her job unlike the rest of the spineless members of the faculty. Is it the students who need to grow up or is it the faculty? I think the faculty are the ones whom have failed the students in this case.
Lisa Andreana February 29, 2012 at 12:16 PM
I guess I need to publicly make a statement about yesterday to all those who are upset their precious school system was disturbed for the day. Some things need to be made known to those who feel the need to voice their negative opinions about something that had the best intentions....... (new post)
Lisa Andreana February 29, 2012 at 12:16 PM
This was not to skip class, or get any teachers in trouble, we did not intend to "embarrass" our school where a "voice could be heard." What we 130 kids did yesterday was exercise our rights which as everyone knows we have very little of in school. We stood up, banded together, mostly peacefully once there was some order, & fought over something that was dear to our hearts. I can't comment on Mr. Ritz being embarrassed, and sad that his family would find out this way because my concern was simply not Mr. Ritz, it was Mrs. Cassidy, &I have talked to her numerous times since this happened & she is not upset at what the students did at all, although she was upset how the adults handled it. This was not a matter of being disruptive, causing havoc, and skipping class. It was a matter of finally standing up for the rights we so rarely defend and making OUR VOICES BE HEARD. OF COURSE there will be critics, narrow minded people who walk in the lines of life, scared to stray from the politically correct path of life, for you people, I wish you luck, for you will always be inadequate, simple minded, a simpleton really. While you are drawing in the lines I will be painting the sky a different color. For those two teachers, we meant you no harm, we love you both. If any message other than that was portrayed then we're deeply sorry, that was not our intentions. Good day.
Karen Silva February 29, 2012 at 05:16 PM
I agree with you a billion percent Nick Armetta. I could not have said it better myself. Mr. Kennedy has clearly sent a message that you run and hide from issues instead of facing them head-on like a well adjusted adult. Noone has ever solved a problem by running away from it. Mr. Kennedy has singlehandedly and totally embarrassed the school and his behavior screams hypocrite given that fact the school motto is "Where a voice can be heard"--oops. Oh, wait a minute, there might be a Freudian slip in this motto because it says "a voice" as apposed to "every voice" or "voices" maybe the school motto really means that Mr. Kennedy's voice is the only voice that matters
Karen Silva February 29, 2012 at 05:25 PM
Lisa Andreana YOU are an amazing human being with insight and creativity and I commend your efforts; the future can only be brigher when it includes young adults with "visions" like yours.
Belinda Marcum March 01, 2012 at 12:08 AM
To everyone who is saying how disruptive this sit in was and how the kids weren't thinking when they chose to voice there opinion, I ask that in today's day an age you commend them for staying calm and peaceful, all you see are young adults not thinking and doing things in such a horrific violent manner, but our children at BHS did not do any of that, they went with the hearts to try and help someone they care about. So please take all that into consideration before you degrade the way they handled this situation. I am very proud of all of you for standing up and letting your voices be heard.
Jack Tomascak March 01, 2012 at 12:53 AM
Mr. Kennedy made a statement today at the end of the school day. He has offered, to students, open and easy-to-make appointment times for up to eight students at once to talk to him about any issue or point they would like to make. These times are from 7AM to around the beginning of school and immediately after school, every school day (when he is in the building). His current priority is the students' well-being. Also, Honest Student nailed it.
Belinda Marcum March 01, 2012 at 01:01 AM
We shall see if it actually happens, according to past statements this is not the first time he has not been available for his student, if he actually does change that then great, but again we shall see.
Belinda Marcum March 01, 2012 at 01:39 AM
In my own home I know my daughter especially attended the sit in because she absolutely loved Mrs. Cassidy so she did do it from the heart regardless of what people think, my daughter is not a trouble maker or disruptive nor is my son and I stand behind them, they have freedom of speech just like we all do here!!
vahe hovhannisyan March 02, 2012 at 03:04 AM
The first amendment wasn't made so that we can talk about the weather, it was made so we can talk about very controversial things, such as this. This school is taking away our rights, and our liberties. They tell us what to drink, and that we can't eat, soon they'll tell us how to sleep and breathe. The school is meant to educate. Mr. Kennedy is taking away two of the best teachers in this school. I love Mr. Ritz, he is an OUTSTANDING teacher, who rises above all else, teaches above the curriculum, and gets the students involved by creating a special bond between him and the students. I look forward to attending the meeting on monday. I very much hope that the media will follow it, the media has a large impact on perspective. Hopefully Mr. Kennedy's perspective of us will change for the better.

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