Montpelier elementary teacher under fire from parents
MONTPELIER — A Union Elementary School teacher who has been scrutinized by parents over concerns that include her repeated absences from the classroom has extended her current leave of absence into next year.
Superintendent Brian Ricca confirmed Tuesday that fifth-grade teacher Kristie Bush has extended her medical leave of absence until January. Ricca would not comment on how much time she has already missed or when the leave started.
Bush was the target of criticism from several parents at last week’s school board meeting who said their children are struggling because of her.
The parents said their children have not had a consistent teacher and that even when Bush is there she is not doing her job properly.
The parents chose last week’s board meeting to discuss Bush because they thought she might return to the classroom after the Thanksgiving break.
Parents asked the school board to step in and retain the substitute teacher who is now handling Bush’s class, Laura Dunwoody, through the end of the current school year.
The school board has not made any decision on whether to keep Dunwoody.
Ricca said Dunwoody is certified to teach in New Hampshire and is working on becoming certified in Vermont. She can continue to teach here as long as she is in the process of getting her Vermont teaching certificate, which Ricca said should happen soon.
Parent David Dobbs, who has a child in third grade, identified Bush by name during the meeting and threatened to pull his child out of the school system if the board does not rectify the situation as he described it. Dobbs said another child of his was taught by Bush years before, and he characterized the classroom then as chaotic and called Bush a disaster.
A letter was sent to the school board Nov. 14 over the names of 16 parents outlining their issues with the teacher and asking the board to act immediately to replace Bush. The letter also said that at the end of the last school year, Bush told her students they would be burning their vocabulary and spelling books in Hubbard Park as a celebration on their last day and that she asked the students to keep the burning a secret from their parents. It is unclear whether the burning took place or if any action was taken by the board or administration regarding the alleged incident.
One of the parents who was named in the letter as a co-signer, City Councilor Angela Timpone, skipped a council meeting to attend the school board meeting and was the first to speak out against Bush last week.
She said Tuesday that Bush took another leave of absence and missed several additional days last year. Timpone said Bush has been away from school several weeks this time but did not know exactly when the current leave began.
Besides not having the consistency of a regular full-time teacher, Timpone said, her son has been struggling because his teacher has not been following his individualized education program, or IEP. IEPs are for children with delayed skills or disabilities and provide special services such as speech or physical therapy.
Timpone said it is the teacher’s responsibility to follow certain aspects of the program and that Bush failed to hold up her end of the bargain by not doing things such as making sure her child had all his assignments in his backpack.
Ricca said Tuesday that the responsibility for following an IEP is not solely on the teacher’s shoulders. Implementing the IEP is up to a team, he said, including the regular classroom teacher, a special education teacher and the parents.
After parents spoke last week, School Board Chairwoman Sue Aldrich said the board would go into executive session to discuss the matter. On Tuesday, board member Lowell VanDerlip said there was no action taken in executive session. Explaining the reason for the closed-door session, he cited an exemption in the state’s open meetings law that allows executive sessions for discussion of an employee’s possible dismissal or discipline.
VanDerlip said he did not know when or if Bush would return to teaching. He said he also did not know when the board would again discuss the parents’ concerns.
Bush had no comment Tuesday about the meeting or what was discussed at it.
The president of the teachers union, Lara Slesar, who teaches third grade at the school, said the union also had no comment about the school board meeting.
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