Students at Marshall School saw the hallway bulletin boards cleared of their projects and covered in green on March 17. Last week, students saw the same boards covered in spring decorations. Then, on Friday, some of the same bulletin boards were cleared again. In one case, the decorations were replaced by a sign that reads, “undecorated by a proud supporter of SOMEA,” a reminder that more is at stake than hallway art.
Originally, the student work and projects was removed as part of the district-wide South Orange Maplewood Education Association’s (SOMEA) decision to limiting teacher activities to those strictly outlined in the contract, which expired in June, 2009.
Reaction was swift. At a recent Marshall PTA meeting, a number of parents expressed dismay over the appearance of the hallways.
Then, last week, parent volunteers arrived at Marshall School after hours to decorate the boards with bright paper and spring, nature, and sports-themed cutouts, which were provided and paid for by an anonymous donor.
“We’re doing this voluntarily,” said one Maplewood mother of two Marshall students who asked not to be named. “It’s not a comment on the contract or the teachers. It’s to make the halls look better for the kids.”
However, other parents take another view. Clarke McCarthy, who has two children in the district and is a Marshall School class captain, has been outspoken in her criticism of such actions, describing it as “union busting.”
“Many parents want the boards decorated,” said McCarthy in an email and in an interview with Patch. “Many others are supportive of the work action. Until we can speak clearly with one voice, with input from all PTA members, we should do what we say we are doing and not take sides.”
On Friday, McCarthy removed the decorations from the bulletin boards outside her child’s class, noting that other boards had also been “undecorated.” Rather than leave the boards bare, McCarthy covered the board in green, as it was when the “work to contract” actions began, and a sign that reads “undecorated by a proud supporter of SOMEA.”
“I have had tremendous response,” said McCarthy, not only to the redecoration of the bulletin boards, but to t-shirts she has taken to wearing. Similar to the green t-shirts teachers wear that read “I am SOMEA,” McCarthy is providing green t-shirts that read, “I Love SOMEA,” and “I Support SOMEA” free of charge at Other Mothers, which she owns.
Through the co-presidents, Amy Cummings and Jessica Arkel, the Marshall PTA issued a statement on Monday:
The Marshall PTA is aware of the strong opinions and emotions surrounding the difficult issues raised by the bulletin boards at Marshall. The bulletin boards are not a PTA issue.
The PTA facilitated the decoration of the boards because we thought we had a teacher vote behind it. We did not. As the Parent Teacher Association, we are neutral on this and all contract issues. Furthermore, it is important to note that PTA funds were NOT used to complete the decoration of the bulletin boards.
The PTA and the Marshall teachers would like to jointly reiterate that we are, as we always have been, committed to our effort to work together to benefit the children in our community. Through this challenging situation, we have learned the importance of consistent and direct communication.
Patch has contacted representatives from other district schools, where, it appears, the boards have not been redecorated.