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.