Emotions ran high at the June 14 Ithaca City School District Board of Education meeting. Dozens of ICSD teachers, staff and community members gathered to express their continued support for Northeast Elementary School’s principal Liddy Coyle, protesting outside the board meeting and speaking during the public comment portion of the meeting, as well.
Coyle has reportedly been on leave since May 23, though little to no details about her sudden disappearance from Northeast have been released. Four weeks and a series of Tuesday demonstrations later, the community is still reeling from her absence, expressing frustration with the silence and lack of clarity.
“It’s wrong what’s happening, and I’m going to fight for her,” asserted Northeast Elementary Kindergarten teacher Sandy Rouleau, who’s been teaching at the school for 29 years and in the district for 35.
During her decades of teaching, Rouleau has worked under 6 different building principals at Northeast. But, she said that Coyle stood out as the most passionate, child-centered and committed to staff and parents. Because of this, Rouleau was surprised by Coyle’s removal and anxious about the lack of information surrounding the circumstances, such as whether she will return.
Northeast Elementary first grade teacher Beth Myers was also at the demonstration in support of her beloved principal. In line with other demonstrators, Myers alleged that there may be a more sinister reason behind the lack of clarity regarding principal Coyle’s leave.
“It just feels like they’re not telling us anything because if they told us the truth it would make them look like they were retaliating against her,” said Myers.
Though Coyle and Northeast elementary were at the root of the demonstration, many teachers and staff also expressed general dissatisfaction with ICSD’s atmosphere and raised other issues like the central administration, the number of teacher and staff vacancies, vague pandemic teaching plans, code of conduct changes, issues with tenure and fear of retaliation.
“I think in general teacher morale has felt incredibly low, and a piece of that is because we don’t feel like our voice matters,” said Myers. “We’ve been saying for years, ‘We don’t have subs. We don’t have supports. We’re feeling burnt out.’”
Also during the board meeting, Brian Goodman, a fourth-grade teacher at Northeast, provided potential solutions to some of the issues that were brought to light in the hopes of starting to resolve the impasse that’s been present since late May.
“I’d like for staff, family, central admin and the board of ed to pursue policy reform around bias and retaliation,” said Goodman.
According to Goodman, this could look like expanding the positions that are eligible for tenure, creating a red flag committee or drafting a protocol for suddenly removing staff from a building.
The board members emphasized that they were listening to and empathizing with the speakers at the meeting, though they pushed back against some of the assumptions that they weren’t listening or lacked integrity. Instead, they alluded to privacy restrictions and laws that prohibit the discussion of individual district employees in public.
“Because we can’t say specific things doesn’t mean we’re not listening. Because we can’t speak and put someone’s privacy at jeopardy does not mean we’re not having conversations,” said board member Christopher Malcolm.
This story was originally published by the Ithaca Times as a part of The Cornell Daily Sun Ithaca News Fellowship.