A number of teachers at Southampton High School wore black T-shirts as they wrapped up the school year on Friday.
According to at least one teacher, they were protesting the fact that a student whose parent works at the school had special accommodations when taking a Regents exam on June 18.
The decision was made by High School Principal Dr. Brian Zahn just a few days before the test, according to Southampton Superintendent Dr. J. Richard Boyes. To protect the student, the superintendent declined to go into many specifics, but he did say that “a parent expressed concern about the high level of anxiety that a student was experiencing as the student prepared for a Regents exam.”
At the parent’s request, the student was allowed to take the chemistry exam in a smaller classroom rather than the gymnasium, the superintendent said. “And I think people disagreed with that decision. Some teachers have protested that—and that’s what this whole issue is about.”
Under normal circumstances, certain students with special needs can have individual accommodations, such as extended time limits, having a test read aloud to them or taking it in a smaller room to minimize distractions. However, Dr. Boyes said that building principals also grant accommodations at their discretion.
Dr. Zahn, the principal, said two students were accommodated during end-of-year testing after showing symptoms of “short-term disability” brought on by anxiety, with one showing signs of nausea. They were seen by the director of special education, Denise Merchant, and either by Dr. Zahn or by the assistant principal, Esther Adler-O’Keefe, before the decision to accommodate them was made, according to Dr. Zahn, who said that ultimately the decision rested with him.
There had been no favoritism for the student whose parent works at the school, the principal said, adding that the parent’s classroom happened to be one of two rooms used for accommodation during the Regents exam.
“We have split opinion in the district as to whether it was warranted,” Dr. Boyes said of the decision to administer the test separately, adding that the criticism does raise “the larger issue of, a lot of kids have anxiety … Some kids can work themselves in a terrible nervous condition.”
“There are very much high levels of anxiety going around all over the place,” Dr. Zahn said, mentioning teachers and administrators in addition to the students themselves.
According to Dr. Zahn, some of the teachers wearing black shirts on Friday told him it was “to protest testing improprieties,” while others said it was “to voice our displeasure with testing overall.” One teacher who asked not to be named said an email had gone out that urged all teachers to wear black “in support of academic integrity,” and that roughly 80 percent were wearing black by the end of the day.
School was over on Friday, but students and staff were attending graduation rehearsal, and teachers were grading tests. Southampton Teachers Association President Sean Brand said the protest had not been organized by the union, and was spawned out of frustration about “how education is mandated.”
“Whether you’re wearing black or not … I firmly believe that everyone here has the best interests of our students at heart,” the principal said.