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Parents, Students Rally In Support Of ECS Teacher Who Questioned Reopening Plan

Sarah Schneider
90.5 WESA
Environmental Charter School students deliver petitions to a "mailbox" supporting ECS returning Williams to his class.

Mark Williams has not returned to his fourth grade classroom. The Environmental Charter School teacher says he wants to return and is willing to do so if the administrators who suspended him without pay last week begin restorative justice.

Williams models the practice with his students and said he wants the system of four charter schools to walk the walk. The approach used in criminal justice relies on the victim and offender meeting to repair harm. 

After Williams submitted a video for his studentsFeb. 14 that outlined his fears and concerns about the administration’s plan to return to in-person learning after 11 months of remote instruction, he was notified that he was suspended for eight days without pay. 

He was reinstated Friday but Williams said he has not heard from home office, the ECS administration, since. 

In a letter to COO James Doyle and CEO Jon McCann that Williams attached to a Youtube video this week, Williams invited the two to attend his classes this week “where you will be able to hear for yourselves how your actions this week impacted our students and their families,” Williams said in the letter.

“I will guide you in a group discussion to validate their feelings without defensiveness and explanation and to describe what you could have done differently to mitigate the unnecessary hurt in this situation. I will encourage my students to share with you stories of when they unintentionally and intentionally hurt a friend’s feelings and will remind them that we have all hurt people. Then I will encourage them to share with you the beautiful things they see in you as dedicated public servants working to make ECS the best it can be. We will grow them as citizens together as we model what good citizens do,” he said.

McCann did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

Williams asked for accountability structures to be put in place so that “no one is ever treated again like I was this week,” he wrote.

About 60 students and family members rallied outside of the intermediate school Wednesday to show support for Williams. They sang, held signs and called on ECS to begin restorative practice with Williams. Then students modeled restorative practice, something Williams uses with his students.

A group of kids ran around the muddy lot next to the school. The adult leading the exercise noted a “problem cheetah” who flailed her arms and chased students. The adult put the cheetah in timeout, brought her back to the group and asked the others how the “cheetah’s” behavior made them feel. “Scared,” they said. The cheetah apologized for scaring them and said she would change her behavior.

Williams said he has sent emails to administrators every day this week asking to fulfill his requests.

ECS parent Beth Ruzanic told the families gathered Wednesday to keep the pressure on the administration to return Williams to his students.

“This is just the beginning,” she told them.