Several Cambridge educators appeared in front of the School Committee to address contract concerns as the committee attempted to discuss their agenda, which did not include ongoing contract negotiations.
Educators’ comments directly after the Cambridge Education Association demonstrated outside of the meeting amid an impasse in contract negotiations with the district. While negotiations have been ongoing since October 2022, the union’s prior contract expired on Aug. 31, leaving educators without a renewed contract.
Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui, who chairs the School Committee, redirected statements about the ongoing contract negotiation throughout public comment, asking speakers to refrain from discussing topics not on the meeting agenda.
“The contract and matters related to the contract are not on the agenda,” Siddiqui said in response to a public comment on contract negotiations. “I would encourage public commenters to speak on items on the agenda, or I will have to redirect.”
CEA President Dan Monahan shared results from a recent survey of Cambridge educators regarding new schedules and alleged two breaches of contract for which the union intends to file grievances.
“More than 18 percent, they do not have a 40-minute continuous duty-free period every day in their schedule,” Monahan said of surveyed educators. “Eight percent said they do not have a 30-minute lunch. Both of these are clearly guaranteed in the contract, so we’ll file grievances to ensure the contract is followed, focusing on schools and positions that are most egregious.”
Though the CEA’s previous contract has expired, its terms remain in effect until a new agreement is reached.
Monahan also shared a series of anonymous quotes from Cambridge educators — who cited fears of “possible retribution” — expressing additional concerns regarding schedules as well as understaffing amid a spike in Covid-19 cases.
“I think that’s a sentiment of many of our educators,” said Monahan, referring to one of the anonymous quotes he shared. “We love our students, we love our families, and life in our schools is really, really hard right now.”
Bill Folman, a social studies teacher at Vassal Lane Upper School, said he feels a contrasting level of support between the school- and district-level administrations.
“My hope for the future — beyond these two weeks — is that I can feel the same way about my district as I do for my school,” Folman said. “Right now, I do not feel my voice is valued, nor my time. I do not feel trusted.”
After hearing comments from educators and parents, the School Committee proceeded to address other concerns from the first two weeks of school, including questions about scheduling within the district.
In the 2022-23 school year, CPS conducted audits of elementary and middle school schedules, prompted by a 2017-18 school year finding that the district had fewer in-school hours per year than peer districts.
At the start of the 2023-24 school year, new recommended guidelines for schedules were shared with school principals. CPS parents spoke at the meeting, citing concerns regarding insufficient breaks in elementary school student schedules.
The guidelines suggest 60 daily minutes of math instruction in elementary schools, which CPS parent Laura Clawson called “an exhausting hour” for her second-grade son in public comment.
Public commenters also shared concerns that scheduling constraints restricted time for eating lunch for both students and staff members.
CPS parent Sarah Flynn said the reduced lunch time is especially felt by students who rely on free school lunch rather than lunch from home, calling the reduction “unfair” and “inequitable.”
School Committee member Rachel B. Weinstein spoke regarding an order she proposed to share a message with CPS staff and families clarifying reasons for the newly released scheduling guidelines.
“The problem we’re trying to solve together is how to ensure that school leaders and educators receive the guidelines as guidelines and not really specific mandates,” Weinstein said.
“The order proposes that Superintendent communicate that we trust our teachers to use the guidelines to enhance learning time and also to continue to use their professional wisdom to meet what students need in a given moment,” she added.