Luca Kelley Nielsen/Sagamore Staff
Students, teachers, parents and other community members gathered at the front of the high school at 11 a.m. on June 1 to advocate on behalf of Brookline educators. All around, some students stood with prepared signs and speeches to support their teachers under pressure from the recent layoffs.
The protest, which was organized by juniors Leila Allen, Sophia Friedman, Sophia Pentland and Mia Pujols-Briceno, was in direct response to the Brookline School Committee (BSC) sending reduction-in-force notices (RIFs, or pink slips) to over 360 educators in the district. The BSC announced the teachers who received RIFs would be laid off from the district beginning June 23. All pre-professional teachers, as well as librarians, all teachers in the visual arts, performing arts, Career and Technical Education (CTE) and athletic departments were issued RIFs.
Before the speakers read their prepared speeches, the organizers mentioned the students’ and teachers’ outrage and requests to the BSC following the potential layoffs. Allen started the protest with her general thoughts towards the committee’s actions.
“With all of the problems in the world right now, we believe these cuts were made without much consideration and were unfair to our community, especially our educators,” Allen said.
After their initial statement, the first speaker to share thoughts about the situation was 9th grade physics teacher, Dr. Graciela Mohamedi. She shared the official statement from the BEU and expressed her personal outrage over the layoffs.
Following Mohamedi’s remarks, senior Ella Whelan spoke about the role of the student body during these times.
“I think I speak for many students that the culture we want is the culture that we have right now. Every teacher in this building is important to us,” Whelan said. “We need to speak up and use our voices so that they know we are a hundred percent behind them.”
As the protests continued, more teachers that originally had not intended to speak came up to share their thoughts. Coolidge Corner School Physical education teacher Jennifer Nixon-Mathis stepped up to share her favorite experiences with her students.
“During this time, I get to teach virtual PE class to K-8 students. During those three mornings is the only time during this remote learning besides me joining classes on Zoom, that I get to do what I love to do best,” Nixon-Mathis said. “Seeing my students, having those interactions with them, and getting their heart rates up for 20 minutes is my passion.”
Nixon-Mathis talked about further steps she believes the BSC should take and brought attention to the extreme cuts to her department.
“I have been a physical education teacher in Brookline for 24 years and I am crying. I was blindsided with the new news that my entire department was laid off,” Nixon-Mathis said. “I want people to know that this has happened.”
Next to speak was junior Maddie Kirrane, who was recently appointed as one of the presidents of the Brookline Literacy Program (BLP), which brings books and other novels to the school libraries of underfunded and low-income communities.
One of the main advocates for the BLP is librarian Bridget Knightly, who received a RIF from the BSC.
Kirrane said her club, which has been recognized by the Brookline Youth Awards and had raised around $70,000 to support local educators with the materials and books, would suffer because Knightly might no longer be there to support the program.
With all of the guest speakers and participants showing support, the community recognized the extent of the decisions made by the school committee. Junior Abby Spiller expressed her disappointment in the BSC and called for further student action to oppose the recent issuing of RIFs to many Brookline teachers.
These demonstrations by the community exhibited the strength, perseverance, friendship and determination of the student body and educators.
“High school has been a hugely impactful place on my life, my mental health, my growth as a person and I would not be anywhere without my teachers. That’s why the three of us organized it,” Allen said.
Pujols-Briceno said the community has made progress and that there is still work to be done.
“After today, we told ourselves that this isn’t over. We have to continue. We have to stay updated,” Pujols-Briceno said. “We want to brainstorm with our parents and to email our representatives to see what we can do. We still have a lot to take in and a lot to learn, [and] we’re still brainstorming about what the next step is.”