Rochester city school teachers are not happy with the proposed changes to the district's code of conduct or with recommendations to improve school climate, says Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester Teachers Union.
The Community Task Force on School Climate released a 65-page proposal last month. The group worked for months on a code that moves away from suspensions as the primary disciplinary tool to a policy based on restorative justice principles and social-emotional support.
The proposal's recommendations emphasize anti-racism training for teachers, as well as training in restorative justice practices.
But Urbanski says that the proposal echoes a familiar refrain of late: that teachers need to be fixed.
Teachers' concerns are largely dismissed, he says, particularly when many are worried about their safety. Urbanski says that alternatives to suspension, such as placement in special programs or schools, are needed for some students.
Though some of the task force's recommendations apply to all school staff, teachers clearly spend the most time with students. Their support of the task force's recommendations is widely seen as critical to the proposal's implementation.
Rosemary Rivera is organizing director of Citizen Action of New York and worked with the task force on the recommendations. She says that the group has been mindful of how teachers would respond to the proposal.
"We are trying to support them," Rivera says. "We're not saying teachers are racists. We're saying that institutional racism exists. We want to provide them with the tools to create a more positive school environment."
Data on suspensions in city schools shows that children of color are suspended at disproportionately higher rates than white children for the same kinds of infractions.
Urbanski points out that teachers don't suspend students. But Rivera says that teachers often initiate the process with a referral to an administrator.
"What we're saying is, what do we need to do to lower those referrals and help you with classroom management?" Rivera says.
That misses the point, Urbanski says, and buys into the narrative that teachers are the problem. He cites a recent alleged incident at School 8 involving Cynthia Elliott, vice president of the city school board.
The RTA filed a class action grievance with the district after Elliott allegedly interrupted a recent professional development meeting and told teachers that if they don't feel comfortable teaching in an urban setting, to leave. The grievance says that Elliott repeatedly cursed at the teachers in the meeting.
"I think this has a direct relevance to the Code of Conduct policy," Urbanski says. "You can't teach what you can't model."
Elliott did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
Urbanski says that Elliott seems to be saying that teachers should resign themselves to physical and verbal abuse if they want to work in city schools and that they better not complain about it.
"The district has now lost any moral standing on the issue of Code of Conduct," he says. "Why is it that the teachers union is the only one saying 'You can't talk to teachers this way'? Where is the outrage?"