By Ken Stone
A popular English teacher at Francis Parker School is resigning over pending in-person instruction rules, and officials of the elite private school in Linda Vista fear a student boycott.
Chris Harrington, head of the English Department in the Upper and Middle schools and a faculty member since 1991, emailed students Thursday.
“Because my wife is in a high-risk category for COVID complications, I wanted to wait until I felt like the risk was minimized,” he said, noting that a change in school policy required “many of us to return to work in person on Nov. 30.”Harrington said he was put in a tough position — “with my commitment to family and commitment to school coming into conflict.”
So he decided to resign as of Nov. 30.
“This is not something I want to do,” he said. “If it were up to me, I would keep teaching my classes via Zoom until I was ready to return to campus. But that option is no longer possible under the new policy and guidelines.”
On Friday, in email to students and a Twitter posting, Head of School Kevin Yaley said he had tremendous respect for Harrington and was saddened by his decision to resign.
But the two-campus school’s leader said he wanted to “clarify any misinformation about our temporary faculty teleworking program.”
At the start of the school year, he said, Parker offered a temporary teleworking program that granted teachers the option to work from home for the first trimester “with the understanding that we would revisit this program prior to the start of the second trimester.”
He said the telework program was revised because Parker F.I.R.S.T. protocols allowed the school to “demonstrate that a safe return to our campuses is not only possible but sustainable.”
“We believe in-person, on-campus instruction is optimal for student learning and their social and emotional well-being,” Yaley added.
In an email to students, Yaley said he had been informed that some students were planning to organize a boycott.
Yaley wrote: “As you contemplate both the intended outcome of your act of solidarity as well as the manner in which you choose to demonstrate your position, I would challenge you to first consider the importance of approaching this – or any other matter – with a commitment to understanding the larger context and the critical information that led to Mr. Harrington’s decision, understanding that some of the information cannot be shared as it is private and confidential.”
One senior, Samuel Carrillo, wrote Thursday to Yaley and Interim Head of Upper School Carrie Dilmore that he would boycott all school events, including virtual and in-person classes, starting Monday “unless the school’s administration and board reverse the policy mandating all teachers return to campus for in-person learning starting November 30th AND issue a formal apology to all members of the faculty. I will be organizing as many students as I can to follow me in this act and encourage them to do so.”
Carrillo — who sent the email to the classes of 2021, 2022, 2023 and 2024 — appended a quote from César Chávez: “Talk is cheap… It is the way we organize and use our lives every day that tells what we believe in.”
(On Sept. 29, Dilmore informed Upper School students that a Parker student had tested positive for COVID-19, saying: “This individual is currently in isolation, and our thoughts are with them in hopes of a speedy recovery.”)
A petition on change.org calling for a reversal of the policy change had more than 630 signatures at 8:30 p.m. Friday.
“The school must offer teachers the option to keep their job at current salary and do so in whichever format each teacher feels is safest for them with their unique family situation in mind,” said petition organizer Ben Krongard, who graduated in 2018.
“I hope the administration and those that made this decision ask themselves: will anyone die from taking a Zoom class? If world renowned universities are utilizing online classes, what gives Parker the impression online learning is not good enough? What if a teacher risked teaching in person to keep their job and their spouse or child died, whose fault would that be?”
A shared Google document signed “Parker Students for Teachers” suggested that other teachers have resigned.
“We call upon all members of the Parker community to stand in solidarity with teachers by opposing the policy by Francis Parker School’s administration mandating that all teachers return to campus,” the document said.
An “open letter to Parker admin” said: “Unfortunately, several Parker teachers have reportedly been hospitalized due [to] anxiety attacks and stress-induced illness. As a private institution that prohibits teachers from unionizing, the administration’s announcement is the most recent example of how teachers at Parker are mistreated by our administration.”
Yaley and Harrington didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Harrington’s son Billy posted a note to Instagram, thanking students for advocating for his father.
He said the 108-year-old school wants teachers back to “appease wealthy parents.”
“Even if you disregard that San Diego is going through all-time highs in COVID rates and that my dad lives near my 80-year-old grandma & with my immunocompromised mom, the school’s decision is still full of shit,” Billy Harrington wrote. “The fact that the school won’t extend even the slightest leeway towards a legacy member of their faculty is pathetic.”
Harrington’s son called his father’s situation a small example in the larger scheme of Francis Parker’s “increasingly troubling prerogative to mistreat and disregard their teachers. … The school’s repeated neglect of teachers has certainly caught up to him stress-wise.”
He continued: “The school routinely asks more and more of their teachers — to the point that they’re expected to partially act as mini-admin officers — while simultaneously asking them to teach more classes than rival schools’ teachers do, and all at the same salary.”
He said school administration “had the audacity to tell my dad that it’s him and my family that owes Parker for our time here…. The school’s lack of gratitude towards my dad is what really disgusts my family & me the most. It’s callous and stupid to let a guy you’ve had for 30 years walk because he won’t bend over to your stupid decision, and, what’s more, it’s emblematic of an administration that treats its faculty as disposable, interchangeable pieces.”
Francis Parker School, with 1,310 students in Junior Kindergarten through 12th grade and a Lower School in Mission Hills, created its COVID-related personnel programs “with a tremendous amount of thought, care, collaboration, expert input from health officials, and with an eye always focused on the safety and health of our community,” Yaley wrote.
In late August, Parker’s Lower School (with 560 students and 340 staff members) received county approval for an elementary school waiver allowing in-person learning to begin Sept. 8.
In a statement to Times of San Diego, echoing Yaley notes, the school said:
Francis Parker is aware of misinformation about its temporary faculty teleworking program.
At the start of the school year, Francis Parker offered a temporary teleworking program which granted teachers the option to work from home for the first trimester with the understanding that they would revisit this program prior to the start of the second trimester. The administration revised the temporary faculty teleworking program for two reasons: Parker F.I.R.S.T. protocols have allowed them to demonstrate that a safe return to campuses is not only possible but sustainable; and second, they believe in-person, on-campus instruction is optimal for student learning and their social and emotional well-being.
Francis Parker administration has spent the past weeks working with each faculty member who has been granted a teleworking accommodation, and while they are unable to share any details, as they are personal to employees, they analyzed their unique situations with extreme attention, consideration, and compassion. Each employee was provided with various options ranging from additional accommodations made to their physical work space on campus to applying for job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons. This program was designed to create a fair approach that would apply consistently to all of our faculty as it relates to protecting the health of their employees who are immunocompromised, a determination based entirely on the information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In 2014, Harrington was named the first Vassiliadis Family Chair in English, the result of a $1 million endowment.
A San Diego native and alumnus of UC San Diego and Boston College, Harrington was praised by Head of School Yaley for his “masterful knowledge of subject matter and and the ability to inspire and engage students and faculty. We, and the Vassiliadis Family, are delighted that you will be the first to carry the distinction of Endowed Department Chair.”
Story updated at 8:30 p.m. Nov. 13, 2020
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