Students protest teacher’s contract non-renewal at Holyoke High School

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HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – Students from Holyoke High School protested the non-renewal of a teacher’s contract on Friday.

The protest for Thomas had around 30 students who gathered on their last day of classes outside the school.

An email from the ethnic studies department, written by a student, at Holyoke High told 22News that students are demanding the administration reverse the decision to not renew the contract of Ethnic Studies teacher, Alicia Thomas.

The email claims that the teacher’s contract was not renewed by Holyoke High this month. Thomas confirmed this in a conversation with 22News.

The email and Thomas also allege that Thomas is one of at least four teachers of color whose contracts were not renewed for the next school year. She is the only black woman teacher in the school.

Thomas was at the protest outside the school and told 22News, “I didn’t know it was happening. It was definitely important to see them raise their voices for what they deserve and want. I was definitely moved.”

Three days ago an article online about Thomas began to gain traction online. The article by, Caroline Winslow, alleges that that Thomas said she was pressured by Holyoke High principal to enforce the “no hat” policy that the school has.

When Thomas allegedly refused due to believing the policy inconsistently targeted minorities, she alleges that the principal gave her a verbal and written warning.

The school department dress code states:

“Hats, bandanas and sweatbands in school are inherently disruptive and are not allowed, with an exception for religious headwear. Students should remove these items when entering the school building and place them in their lockers or book bags for the remainder of the day.”

Thomas told 22News that the students held a demonstration where many wore durags to school in protest of the policy. And on the morning of the demonstration, Principal Mahoney allegedly sent an email announcing the reversal of the policy.

22News spoke with Ms. Thomas on Friday who said the school did not give her a reason for not renewing her contract. Thomas said that in Holyoke Public Schools, if a teacher is employed for less than three years the administration doesn’t have to give a reason for non-renewal.

Holyoke Public Schools spokesperson, Judy Taylor, told 22News they typically do not comment on personnel matters.

Thomas said that the courses she taught are still being offered, but with a different teacher next year. She claims that her evaluations from Principal Mahoney marked her at 95 percent student attendance.

“We respect and honor our democratic principles of free speech and freedom of assembly, and 100% respect students’ rights and initiative as members of our school community and as citizens,” said Executive Principal of Holyoke High School, Dr. Stephen Mahoney. “And we appreciate that the speak out has been scheduled so that it does not interfere with our final exam period.”

Mahoney also said, “We strive to support all our students, faculty and staff to adhere to all of our schoolwide rules and expectations, and believe that we do so in as fair and equitable a manner as is possible.”

A Facebook page called “Keep our Holyoke Teachers of Color” with a Change.org petition was started. The petition currently has just over 500 signatures.

Thomas said that if invited back, she would teach again at Holyoke High School.

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