Guest Spot: Outside school is wrong place for rally

The Riverhead Charter School in Calverton. (Credit: File)
The Riverhead Charter School in Calverton. (Credit: File)

A little over three years ago, when my husband and I made the informed decision to enroll our son at the Riverhead Charter School, we were confident that we made the right choice for our child. We reviewed all of our options within the public and private school system and found that a charter school education was the right fit for us. As the school year comes to a close, we as a family remain confident in that decision — even amid recent controversy. 

The proof for us can be seen every day in the pride our son has for his school, the affection he holds for teachers and staff and the amazing personal and academic growth we have seen in him. My son will proudly tell anyone who asks that he is a student at “RCS” and we, as parents, support and respect his school pride.

When initial media reports began to surface about allegations of union busting within the school and the firing of teachers, I was concerned, as were many other parents. I read every news article and followed social media, trying to come to some kind of understanding about what was happening in our school community. I talked to other parents, went to meetings and asked tough questions of both teachers and the school’s principal and executive director, Ray Ankrum. I came to the conclusion that I could not change what had already happened; the professional challenges teachers and administrators faced were not my responsibility. The dissatisfaction of some parents did not match my own feelings and experiences, nor were they the sentiments of the majority of parents I’d met.

As I write this, my son is off to school like any other day of the week. Unfortunately this is not any other day; this is the day New York State United Teachers has scheduled and sponsored a rally to occur outside the school at dismissal time. I am disheartened, shocked and appalled at the irresponsible timing and location of this rally. I respect any professional’s decision to support, or dissociate from, a union as they see appropriate for their own personal goals. What I do not respect is the decision to willingly and knowingly expose any child to a potentially unsafe situation. This is unsafe. A rally in view of our children is not acceptable. Any parent who chooses to involve their child in these matters has made a decision to do so. I have not; NYSUT made that one for me and I am resentful and angry about that.

Any parent who has picked up their child at dismissal time can attest to the traffic congestion on the roadway outside school and on school grounds — even more so now that we have an active construction project. The distraction of a protest alongside this roadway is a potential disaster for cars and buses making their way in and out of school property. Who is taking responsibility for this, should an accident occur? What then? And if the crowd becomes unmanageable and tensions reach a point of arguing, who is preventing a riotous event? All the while our children, who many parents like myself have tried to protect from these issues, are watching these events unfold. This rally is scheduled without the consent or support of all parents. Shame on the NYSUT for promoting its agenda at the cost of our kids.

Respecting our students’ hard work also means protecting them from situations that could have impact on their safety and emotional well-being. We owe that to them at the very least. Don’t take this fight to their school property, a place where they should feel safe. Don’t display signs that they can read, filled with messages they can’t understand. I am deeply saddened that the innocence of children is less important than the agenda of adults. I am ashamed that anyone affiliated with RCS presently or in the past has failed our children by supporting this rally, at this time and place.

Even in light of all of this, I stand by my decision to support my son’s education at the Riverhead Charter School. This is a school of choice, and I am proud to have my son here. I accept that there is much work ahead of us all in the school community as we grow and learn from these experiences. I can only hope that in the coming days negativity can be replaced with positive, forward-thinking, productive and thoughtful change. This rally today, it is none of those things.

Aimee LoMonaco of Hampton Bays is a registered nurse and a graduate of Riverhead High School. She was recently appointed as parent representative to the Riverhead Charter School’s Board of Trustees (pending state review).