Parents of secondary school students will have electronic access to their children’s grades beginning next week if teachers abide by a memo issued to teachers Monday by Superintendent Philip Thornton.
The action comes following a Superior Court ruling last Thursday on a complaint filed by the department calling for a preliminary injunction compelling the Warwick Teachers Union to immediately cooperate with implementation of electronic grading using the Aspen Student Information System. While Thornton would have preferred that the court direct teachers to use the system, Justice Jeffrey Lanphear found that the district has other means of requiring teachers to use electronic grading.
In his memo, Thornton writes, “I have no choice but to initiate disciplinary action against any employee who fails to follow the district’s directive requiring the reporting of grades in the Aspen grading system.”
“Parents will be able to get real-time feedback,” Thornton said of the system that is already being used by almost 70 percent of the district’s secondary teachers.
But just because many teachers are using the system doesn’t mean parents can access their child’s grades. As part of the directive, Thornton requires teachers to activate the “public” feature of the system.
“Every district is doing it in Rhode Island,” he said of electronic grading.
At a minimum, teachers would post grades four times each quarter beginning with the end of the school day on Dec. 13.
Thornton writes, “Failure to comply with the directive will be considered insubordination and subject to disciplinary action up to, and including, suspension and termination of employment.”
The union doesn’t view it that way.
Even though the union has agreed to implementation of electronic grading in arbitration, union President Darlene Netcoh said Monday that that was on condition of a settlement of an overall contract. Arbitration continues, but mediation talks broke off when School Committee Chair Bethany Furtado reasoned nothing was being accomplished and it was only benefiting the lawyers. Mediator Vincent Ragosta has left the door open to returning to the table, and since then Mayor Scott Avedisian has asked both parties whether he could participate in hopes of reaching a contract that has eluded the parties. The last contract expired in August 2015. As of Wednesday, no date had been reached on when mediation would resume. Thornton is hopeful arbitration that examines issue by issue as raised by the district and the union will come to a conclusion early next year.
“This needs to be bargained,” Netcoh said of electronic grading. “We are not against it. We need language to govern it.”
She maintains any charge of insubordination brought against a teacher for failing to use the Aspen grading system “is illegal because implantation of electronic grading is illegal at this point. It is still part of interest arbitration.”
Netcoh confirmed the system has been implemented “even though they were not supposed to.”
She traced the issue back to June 23, 2013 when now retired Superintendent Richard D’Agostino sent an email to teachers informing them that the department would no longer purchase grade books on the basis of cost cutting. Netcoh said D’Agostino’s email was followed by a Connect-Ed message to teachers instructing them to view a tutorial video on how to use the grading feature of Aspen. Aspen, which the district acquired about five years ago, is also used for scheduling and attendance.
Netcoh said the union won an unfair labor practices complaint relative to electronic grading from the State Labor Relations Board in 2014. Furthermore, she said, the department never provided proper training in the system or Aspen-certified trainers. She said some of those using the system have lost their work and argue it doesn’t work.
“This shows a complete lack of respect the district has for teachers,” she said.
Thornton said the department would make available personnel to assist teachers unfamiliar with the grading system and that, in fact, as of Tuesday two teachers had availed themselves of the offer.
Just how forcefully would the directive be enforced?
“As long as folks make the effort we’re happy,” he said.
Netcoh said the district “is wasting money instead of sitting down and working with us.”