Though it serves one of the wealthiest suburbs of Boston, the Public Schools of Brookline district has been in turmoil for several years, marked by a succession of superintendents.
An interim was just named to replace another interim who resigned; when a new superintendent is chosen next year, he will be the fourth district leader in two years. (In fact, the town of Brookline itself has leadership challenges, with key positions in the local government vacant.)
Last year, the school district was rocked by controversy over kindergarten curriculum, with more than two dozen teachers saying that the move toward more academics and away from play-based learning was making kids dislike school and harming the education of young children.
Mohamedi said that even though there has been tumult in the district, she wasn’t expecting the layoff drama that took place. First she was told she was being laid off. Then she was told it was a mistake. Next she was told the mistake was a mistake and she was still being laid off; and finally, she learned that she could come back to work but not full time.
Four leaders of the district administration — including the official who communicated with Mohamedi about her employment status — were asked to comment repeatedly over more than two weeks but they did not respond.
The episode started for Mohamedi on May 30, when she, along with six other teachers, received a notice saying that she was being laid off from the school system in Brookline.
The district had warned earlier it would have to lay off at least 300 educators and paraprofessionals because it had lost millions of dollars during the covid-19 pandemic and, it said, because of contractual obligations it had to the teachers union. The seven notices were apparently sent out prematurely and more went out later.
Mohamedi said she was shocked to get the notice, but no more so than when she received, on the morning of June 12, an email telling her it was a mistake and that she was not being laid off. That very afternoon, however, she received a shorter missive from human resources director Lisa Richardson, who wrote:
“Dear Graciela: I am writing today with some not so good news. It appears that you were sent a recall from reduction in force letter prematurely. We are double checking our records to be sure of your status with the District next year. Once we have confirmed your status next year, you will be notified immediately.
To be clear, you have not yet been recalled. I apologize for the mistake and the inconvenience.”
She was sent an email with an attachment on how to file for unemployment.
News of the layoffs circulated within the community and there was strong pushback within the district, with the possibility of a no-confidence in the administration from members of the Brookline Education Union. Mohamedi’s situation became well-known, and, on June 16, she got yet another email from the district.
This time, she was told she was not, after all, being laid and could return to teach — but learned she was being asked back for only 80 percent of the time she had last year. She said she will return to teach for the sake of her children.
Richardson did not respond to repeated queries. Neither did the newly departed interim superintendent, Ben Loomis (who is being replaced by another interim), nor did other members of the district leadership.
The district did send out about 360 layoff notices to administrators, teachers and related service providers, with some teachers, Mohamedi said, given a termination date of two days before the end of classes.
Many of those laid off have been recalled. There were, as of late Wednesday, June 25, about 75 Brookline educators without their original job, according to Jessica Wender-Shubow, but, she said, the district had not been forthcoming with data about the layoff process and it was impossible to know exact numbers.
“[T]here have been many inconsistencies and errors in what we have been given at various points,” Wender-Shubow said. “We have been trying to contact every educator whose name has shown up and tried to cross-check their situation, but it’s a challenge to keep up in real time.”
Asked if she felt targeted in any way, Mohamedi said it was “incompetence” that drove the episode. But she did note that two other physics teachers were also laid off and then brought back were white, yet she, a Latina, is the only one with reduced hours. And, she said, the majority of teachers hired in the last four years as part of a diversity initiative were part of the layoff, with the district citing seniority as the driver of the process.
Wender-Shubow said that a breakdown of the data she received from the district after multiple requests showed that as of June 24, there were 35 teachers laid off whose original positions had not been restored as of June 24. Ten of them are teachers of color.
Of the 18 paraprofessionals who were not renewed on account of performance, meaning they could not be recalled, 15 of them were people of color, she said.
And of the 20 paraprofessionals laid-off on June 22 for budgetary reasons, three were people of color.
Mohamedi said the district could have, had it wanted to, prioritize educators of color to retain, even in a layoff driven by seniority. “But they actively didn’t,” she said.
Here’s the June 12 email telling her that the note informing her she wasn’t being recalled was “prematurely” sent.
And here’s the missive telling her she was getting her job back.