Teachers, parents protest outside Lowell School Committee meeting

LOWELL — Brandy Dailey, a working mother-of-four from Lowell, said she was notified by email earlier this summer that her 8-year-old daughter did not get chosen for in-person education this year by a lottery.

So Daily, who works 40 hours a week and has three other children, enrolled her daughter in a day program at the YWCA.

But then on Monday, Daily was notified that her daughter had, in fact, been selected by the lottery for in-person education.

“So me being the person I am, I gave up her spot at the YWCA for another child that needed it,” Dailey said.

A day later, Lowell Public Schools announced that due to an inability to get enough air purifiers into classrooms in time, all teaching for grades 1 to 12 would be fully remote.

The announcement came just two days before the start of school, and left parents like Dailey in the lurch.

But Dailey, as well as parent Lieba Golden-Koulendros, said they are still luckier than many Lowell parents.

Golden-Koulendros said she was already planning to have her child take remote learning only.

Both women were among parents and teachers who picketed outside of Lowell City Hall Wednesday night as members of the School Committee and Superintendent Joel Boyd entered the building for a School Committee meeting.

“We are scrambling, we have 36 hours to figure this out and it’s very unfair,” Dailey said. “I am all for the safety of the children and I have nothing but respect for all the teachers and staff. It’s just going to be very hard working 40 hours and homeschooling my children.”

Golden-Koulendros said her daughter suffered with anxiety over the summer.

“She’s a panicked mess,” Golden-Koulendros said. “Nevermind life with COVID, but having no confidence her school system will get this right.”

And while Golden-Koulendros said her family is lucky in that they can make remote learning work, she feels for her daughter’s classmates, some of whom will be left at home with no parents, expected to learn on their own, and sometimes even with other siblings home as well.

“That’s really where my heart is,” Golden-Koulendros said. “There’s no thought of the people. It’s putting it all on the kids.”

  • Lowell School Committee member Jackie Doherty walks into the School Committee’s Wednesday night meeting as protestors hold signs saying “we’re not ready” and other slogans expressing concerns about safety in schools. Though protestors chanted “we’re not ready” at some school committee members, Doherty was greeted with mostly applause, thought protestors still held their signs in her direction. SUN/Robert Mills

  • Parents and teachers hold signs and chant ‘we’re not ready’ outside Lowell City Hall Wednesday night as School Committee member Mike Dillon Jr., at left, enters city hall. SUN/Robert Mills

  • Daley Middle School Teacher Erin McGrath holds a sign outside Lowell City Hall Wednesday night when teachers and parents protested as School Committee members walked into their meeting at City Hall. SUN/Robert Mills

  • Unidentified teachers and parents hold signs atop a walkway adjacent to Lowell City Hall Wednesday evening as members of the School Committee walk into their meeting. Protestors changed “we’re not ready” when several school committee members walked into the building. SUN/Robert Mills

  • Unidentified teachers and parents hold signs atop a walkway adjacent to Lowell City Hall Wednesday evening as members of the School Committee walk into their meeting. Protestors changed “we’re not ready” when several school committee members walked into the building. SUN/Robert Mills

  • Two protestors hold signs and chant “we’re not ready” as School Committee member Connie Martin walks into the committee’s meeting at Lowell City Hall Wednesday night. SUN/Robert Mills

  • A Lowell teacher who declined to give her name holds a sign outside Lowell City Hall during a protest held as School Committee members were walking into their regularly scheduled meeting Wednesday night. SUN/Robert Mills

Teachers took part in the protest as well, though United Teachers of Lowell President Paul Georges said he wasn’t protesting the decision to cancel in-person learning at the last minute due to a lack of air purifiers. Georges said teachers were protesting for the same reasons they have protested outside City Hall several other times this summer.

Among those reasons is what George described as the city’s unwillingness to have an independent, third-party go into Lowell Schools to evaluate whether they are safe.

Georges said he even reached out to state Sen. Ed Kennedy, who helped get the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to find funding for such testing, so it wouldn’t cost the city.

Georges said the School Committee even had hiring a firm for such an evaluation on their agenda at one point, but pulled it before meeting since the city said it was the city that was responsible for school buildings.

“If it’s going to alleviate anxiety, allow more teachers to feel comfortable coming in… and it’s going to alleviate anxiety of parents who are going to send students to those schools, why say no? Unless you have another motivation to say no,” Georges said.

Asked if he had a theory about why the city resisted the move, Georges said he thinks the city didn’t want the buildings inspected.

“I suspect many of the buildings are not in good shape,” Georges said. “In fact I know that, it’s a fact.”

City Manager Eileen Donoghue reacted angrily to that suggestion, saying the city did hire a professional ventilation company to review systems in every city school early in the summer, so that there would be time to make recommended improvements.

She also said the city has spent about $14 million to make improvements at schools this summer with support from the Massachusetts School Building Authority.

“The amount of time and attention the city has paid to the schools is unprecedented,” Donoghue said. “This has been our number 1 priority so it’s ludicrous for anyone to suggest the schools are unsafe due to ventilation or air quality.”

But Daley Middle School Teacher Erin McGrath also cited the lack of an independent air assessment when asked why she came out to protest.

“I’ve had anxiety about it all summer,” McGrath said.

She also cited a lack of professional development to train teachers on how to teach effectively online, which is far different than teaching effectively in a classroom.

She said teachers were buoyed earlier this summer when they heard they were getting professional development, but then were disappointed to learn the material essentially required them to train themselves, which few were prepared to do. As a result, McGrath said teachers at the Daily came together to share ideas, resources, and come up with ideas that worked.

“We made the best of it, because that’s what we do,” she said. “But the parents and students deserve better.”



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