From: Mike Tracy, Superintendent
To: RSU # 74 School Board
A. Current Legal Update:
II. Governance / Policy:
A. Current Local Update:
1. Next REGULAR RSU #74 Board Meeting is scheduled for September 7, 2022 at 6:00 pm.
B. a. MSMA Updates:
◆Court finds Board violated open meetings law in passing vaccination mandate:
A Rhode Island Superior Court judge has issued a decision that bolsters the case of three Barrington teachers who say they were unfairly fired for not complying with a COVID vaccination mandate enacted in the school district last year. Judge Jeffrey Lanphear ruled that the School Committee violated the state Open Meetings Act by not giving sufficient notice to the public when it adopted a policy last September making it one of only two districts in Rhode Island to require employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. (The other, Little Compton, has one school and sends high school students out of district.)
While others among the Barrington school system’s 427 teachers, administrators and support staff got vaccinated, Brittany DiOrio, Stephanie Hines and Kerri Thurber objected on religious grounds. They were put on leave last fall and fired in January. Their lawyer, Gregory Piccirilli, said the ruling is a small victory, but that ultimately he and his clients want the court to overturn the vaccination mandate. “Then, any action, including terminating my clients, would be void,” Piccirilli said. “They would be eligible for reinstatement and back pay.” Lanphear has scheduled a hearing for June 21 to hear arguments on any “remedies, damages or sanctions” in the case. School Committee Chairwoman Gina Bae said the school district “strongly disagrees” with the court’s ruling. “The court failed to address significant record evidence of the ‘totality of the circumstances’ surrounding the adoption of the policy, which we believe fairly apprised the public of the nature of the business to be discussed,” Bae said in a statement. In his ruling, Lanphear is clear about the scope of the lawsuit. “This case is not about whether mandating vaccinations is appropriate,” he wrote. Rather, the case is limited to the School Committee’s compliance with the open meetings law. In that regard, Lanphear found multiple failings on the School Committee’s part as it considered and then passed the vaccination mandate.
At a subcommittee meeting in August, at which the new policy was discussed, and at meetings of the full committee in late August and early September, through which it was adopted, the public agendas and subsequent minutes failed to specifically mention a vaccination requirement.
On Sept. 20, Supt. Michael Messore sent an email to staff informing them of the policy change and notifying them that they needed to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 1. DiOrio, Hines and Thurber requested religious exemptions within three days of the notice. The requests were denied and they were placed on unpaid leave on Nov. 2. When they had still not been vaccinated, they were fired on Jan. 1. Two have since found jobs at private schools while one of them is still out of work, said Piccirilli. The three teachers said they were not aware of the new policy and its requirement of vaccination before the school year started, making it difficult for them to look for alternative employment. “They were the only teachers in the state of Rhode Island who were treated like this,” Piccirilli said. Lanphear gives credence to the teachers’ position on the lack of notice by the School Committee. “With minimal and vague notice, it is reasonable to conclude that few knew of the actions being taken,” he wrote. “There is no evidence to prove otherwise. The teachers who would be required to be vaccinated were not advised of the proposed change directly, or through the required public notice. Students and parents were not advised.” He continued, “The School Committee agendas indicated that there would be changes to how COVID-19 would be handled as schools were being required to reopen by the state, but the notices were not clear or specific that mask mandates or vaccination mandates were being imposed.
Barrington’s requirement of vaccinations (right or wrong) would have been particularly controversial as no other community required vaccination [of] teachers.” As part of the decision, the judge also ruled that the three fired teachers had legal standing to file their lawsuit. As to their request to void the vaccination mandate and have the district pay a $5,000 fine and their lawyer’s fees, Lanphear will make a decision after the June 21 hearing.
-The Providence Journal, May 28, 2022, by Alex Kuffner
C. Legislative Update:
D. Policy Update:
III. Budget and Finance:
A. State Level:
B. Finance Local:
The School District Auditors will begin the FY22 School audit in August. They typically finish mid-fall, but due to staffing will likely have our ready just before the Holiday season.
A. Facilities Department and Transportation:
There are a lot of summer projects being completed. We did have a small leak in the new CCS roof, and we have a 2 year inclusive warranty form the contractor who plans to come up and fix any concern. Mr. Dunphy and Mr. Tracy are participating in a walk-through with Portland Glass to complete the HS window and door project. The Facilities and Grounds Committee conducted a “facilities tour” of the district last week and they helped produce a Fall list for the Maintenance Department.
V. Principal’s Reports: (GSS, Solon, CSS and CHS)
No reports in August. - Except that Camp Carrabec has gone off without a hitch, and many students are learning and having a lot of fun this summer.
VI. Mr. Tracy Updates and Board Meeting Information:
The Restructure Committee met on July 20, to discuss POTENTIAL costs and savings from the preliminary Conceptual Plan to Educate RSU #74 Students in 3 Buildings. There are some potential savings projected, and Mr. Tracy will review with the School Board.
Interim Superintendent for August:
According to Title 20-A, Part 2, Chapter 101, Subchapter 2, subsection 1051, paragraph 2, “ The school board shall elect, by majority vote of the full membership, the superintendent. The school board, upon notification by the commissioner, shall meet no later than December 31st of the year preceding the expiration of the superintendent's contract, at a day and place determined by the chair of the school board. When a vacancy occurs, the school board shall meet as soon as possible to choose a superintendent. -according to this law simply stated, the school board shall (must) hire a superintendent, and meet as soon as a vacancy occurs to fill the vacancy with a certified candidate.