The Jaffrey-Rindge Education Association, a teachers union, has filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School District.
The Feb. 13 complaint, which Superintendent Reuben D. Duncan provided at The Sentinel’s request, alleges that the district failed to negotiate with the union about changes made to scheduling this year at Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School and Conant High School.
Both schools, which are adjacent to one another in Jaffrey, added a 20-minute advisory period at the beginning of the school day this year, during which students listen to announcements and work with their advisers, according to Duncan.
But the complaint filed with the state’s Public Employee Labor Relations Board — which was filed jointly by the union, the National Education Association and the state’s chapter of the NEA — argues that in doing so, the district violated the parties’ collective bargaining agreement and “failed to bargain in good faith.”
According to Duncan, the change did not significantly affect the middle school’s schedule because the advisory period replaced a 30-minute “intervention period” that was previously in place.
At the high school, the schedule shifted from students having each class for three roughly 45-minute-long periods and one roughly 90-minute-long block per week to having each class for roughly 45 minutes each day, he said. The amount of instructional time and the length of the school day did not change, he noted.
According to the complaint, the union reached out to the district in October of this school year to raise objections to the new advisory period.
District administration then indicated that it would work with the union to “create a mutually agreed-upon schedule,” the complaint states.
But on Feb. 6, the district’s attorney notified the union that the district did not plan to make changes to the schedule until the 2019-20 school year, prompting the union to file its complaint, according to the document.
The complaint asks that the board find the district “improperly changed the working conditions of JREA-represented employees by unilaterally changing the class schedule and adding an advisory period.”
It also requests that the district be ordered to eliminate the advisory period and go back to the class schedule used during the 2017-18 school year.
In an email Wednesday evening, Sheila Nichols, president of the Jaffrey-Rindge Education Association, declined to comment on the complaint “because prior to a hearing there is still an opportunity for resolution without litigation.”
Rachel Hawkinson, Monadnock Region delegate to the New Hampshire chapter of the National Education Association, also declined to comment, citing the same reasoning.
According to Duncan, the concept of the advisory period came from a committee that began meeting in January 2018 to discuss potential schedule changes that would improve flexibility for teachers and students.
The committee gathered feedback from teachers on their ideal schedule. Several teachers, including Mark Haley, the union’s vice president, worked over the summer to create a proposal for the advisory period, according to Duncan.
He said he was surprised to hear the union’s concerns in October.
“I told them I was a little caught off guard when that took place, because we really did have quite a collaborative process that involved every single teacher and everyone’s voice,” Duncan said. “And that really has been the process that we’ve been using while making changes, while making adjustments.”
He said the intent of the advisory period is to provide a more defined line of communication between parents and teachers, as well as to offer more one-on-one support to students.
Though teachers have autonomy over exactly what the advisory period looks like, Duncan said advisers might check in with students on their school work or make sure they’re properly signed up for flex time offerings, blocks used for “enrichment” activities, such as study time, tutoring, course offerings and physical fitness.
“The idea was that there would be some goal setting with kids based upon, if they were to, say, log into their student information system, to find out how they’re doing in their classes, are they missing any work,” Duncan said.
He noted that the district and union have typically had a good working relationship.
“At this point in time, we’re just creating our response, and we’ll go from there,” Duncan said. “And certainly our goal is really to continue collaborative work together and to always reach resolution around what is best for our staff, for our kids, for our community.”