Susannah Sudborough
 
| The Taunton Daily Gazette

TAUNTON — Tensions are high over the Taunton teacher’s union’s position that the school district should go remote as laid out in a memorandum of understanding agreed to by both the union and the district. 

On Thursday, the Taunton Education Association (TEA) released a statement disputing Taunton City Council President Chris Coute’s claim that their push to go remote despite evidence that this could lead to worsening learning deficits for students of color and low income students is “tacitly racist.” 

“Councilor Coute’s comment is hurtful and untrue. We take great offense to it. The TEA is not a racist organization nor do we advocate for racist policies. We do the exact opposite,” the union wrote in a statement. 

The clash goes back to Coute’s Dec. 7 letter to the mayor and school officials in which he argued that the union was prioritizing their contract over the good of students. 

“Our children need to be the top priority, not the teachers union,” he wrote. “Our children’s futures obviously take precedence over ANY attorney drafted contracts.”

The portion of the letter the TEA took particular offense to is a passage where Coute cites a study by the McKinsey Institute that says students of color are losing more learning than the average student. 

“The McKinsey institute believes that the current trend would lead to ‘exacerbating existing achievement gaps by 15% to 20%.’ Our country now is addressing social and racial injustice, but the numbers here do not lie. Remote learning has a disproportionately negative influence on all students, but nowhere as negative as it is for our minority students,” he wrote. “I would charge that any push and subsequent implementation to fully remote learning, would be at a minimum, tacitly racist due to the known consequences of said action.”

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According to the Department of Education, nearly 40% of the Taunton School District is non-white, with the majority of the students being Black and Latinx. This is in sharp contrast to the city of Taunton, which is, according to preliminary yearly census data, 83.5 percent white. 

In response to the TEA’s statement Thursday, Coute clarified his initial statement in an email to involved parties, saying that he meant that the effects of remote learning are indirectly racist, not that the teachers themselves are racist. 

However, he then doubled down on a portion of his initial message: 

“I DO NOT apologize for fighting for our kids, especially those that will be disproportionately affected the most by remote learning…MY TOP Priority at all times – The Kids, The Kids, The Kids.” 

In its statement, the TEA reiterated that they understand how difficult remote learning can be with parents having to go to their own jobs, as well as the irreplaceable learning environment that schools provide. 

Instead, the TEA argued, Coute and others are attacking them unjustly:

“Unfortunately, there seem to be some that seek to blame the TEA for any decisions or changes that they may be unhappy with. This is especially discouraging when it is an elected official, who should be working with us to improve the situation but chooses instead to vilify us by calling our actions racist.” 

The union then argued it understands learning disparities better than anyone and regularly works to close the gap: 

“We, more than many others, realize that not every child has the same advantages and opportunities. We work every day to change that. We advocate for social justice and call on legislators to pass laws that will work to close not only the achievement gap but the bigger and more daunting opportunity gap.”

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The TEA also reaffirmed their desire for the district to be safe before returning to in-person learning, citing the fact that Taunton as a city is still considered to be in the high risk category. 

The union then accused Coute of doubting the reality of the virus, citing a portion of his Dec. 7 letter: 

“Councilor Coute, instead of working with us, makes it difficult for us to have a real conversation when he implies on his official City Councilor page that the numbers are not real. (‘There is talk that the City will now revert to full, remote learning [if we can call it that], now that supposed benchmarks have been met with regard to individual Covid infection cases allegedly rising.’ Councilor Christopher Coute, December 7, 2020) He tacitly claims that the virus and the rising numbers are false.” 

Finally, the union said they are simply asking the district to follow the plan they devised with school administrators, and urged belief in the dangers of the virus.

“We are not the enemy. The pandemic is our common enemy and we can only overcome it together.” 



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