Memo: Teacher was warned, had students edit anti-PARCC brochure

Memo: Teacher was warned, had students edit anti-PARCC brochure

Tony Ashton, of North Attleboro, Mass., son of Jacqueline M. Walsh School English teacher Bill Ashton and a freshman at the school, leads 30 protestors in a chant during a protest at the school on Monday. (Valley Breeze photos by David Wuerth)
Bill Ashton is back in school this week

PAWTUCKET - School administrators warned local high school English teacher Bill Ashton weeks ago not to speak out against a controversial standardized test after they say his son was seen shouting opposition to it.

Ashton was sent home on paid leave last Friday after telling students at the Jacqueline M. Walsh School for the Performing and Visual Arts that the school would not lose funding if they did not take the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exam, according to a letter written that same day by JMW Principal Elizabeth Fasteson. Ashton was back to work on Tuesday morning, according to school officials.

In the internal memo obtained by The Breeze, Fasteson said that a teacher came to her office last Friday to report that Ashton had also handed out an "anti-PARCC brochure" to other teachers and "stated that he had the students make edits on the document."

An opt-out letter was with the brochure, said Fasteson, and it matched others that had been circulating in the building. She wrote that Ashton went into the gym during advisory period last Friday to tell the whole sophomore class that the school would not lose funding due to a lack of participation in the PARCC test. He referred to a situation in New York where students did not take the test and funding was maintained, and told them that it was their parents' decision whether they would take the test.

Fasteson wrote that Ashton told her that he simply "dispelled a stupid rumor" about lost funding but "stayed neutral" and didn't tell students that they should or should not take the test.

According to Fasteson's memo, she and Assistant Supt. Lee Rabbitt had already met with Ashton and a union representative on Feb. 27 after a staff member witnessed Ashton's son Tony, a 9th-grader at the school, yelling, "opt out of PARCC" and saw him handing opt-out forms to students. Bill Ashton was asked at that meeting if he had anything to do with the opt-out forms or anti-PARCC fliers circulating in the school, and he denied it, according to Fasteson. Rabbitt then informed him "that it was a good thing he didn't have anything to do with it since he would be breaking district rules," according to Fasteson's memo.

School staff have no right under the Rhode Island Ethical Code of Conduct to "post or dictate" against policies from the Rhode Island Department of Education, wrote Fasteson, something she reminded the entire staff of in an email after that Feb. 27 meeting with Ashton. They are not allowed to hand out unapproved literature or post unapproved signs, she wrote.

The Ashtons live in North Attleboro, Mass. Bill Ashton declined to comment on the situation when reached at home Monday. Fasteson deferred comment to Supt. Patti DiCenso.

DiCenso hinted that Ashton was disrupting the school day with his actions last Friday.

"What teachers say on their own time is their business so long as it does not disrupt the school environment," she said. "During the workday, however, I expect all teaching staff to teach pursuant to our curriculum and contribute to a respectful, safe environment for our children and our staff. Beyond that, I cannot discuss any personnel matter."

Students in Pawtucket and across the state are taking the PARCC exam this week.

Ashton, whose supporters circulated a petition over the weekend asking that he be reinstated, got national attention for his campaign to bring attention to the PARCC exam.

A "# Bring Back Ashton" Facebook page, a page created by Hope Norton, one of Ashton's students, had more than 2,500 "likes" prior to Ashton's reinstatement Tuesday. An attached online petition had more than 650 signatures.

Students on Monday held protest demonstrations before and after school. They wore T-shirts and held signs asking that school officials "bring back Ashton" and declaring that "you are much more than a test score," among other things.

Watch the students' "Bring Back Ashton" video:

Fasteson said in her letter last Friday that teachers told her that Ashton was telling students that she was "extorting" them about the PARCC exam and telling them that government funds would not be pulled from the school if they didn't take it.

Fasteson wrote in her letter that administrators "expect all students to participate in state assessments, which are part of the process of education in Rhode Island public schools."

According to Fasteson, Ashton was called to her office at around 10:45 a.m. last Friday. Rabbitt informed him at that time that he would be placed on paid administrative leave pending DiCenso's review and that he would have to leave the building immediately.

Fasteson said Ashton claimed he had gone to speak at student advisories "because someone had to dispel the rumors and he didn't do anything wrong." He went on to explain that he is "one of the best teachers at Jackie Walsh," she said.

Fasteson wrote that Ashton was escorted to his classroom to gather his belongings and then exited the building.

A school employee who asked to remain anonymous said that the campaign against the PARCC test at the school has been far from respectful.

One flier that was circulated at JMW over the past few weeks and obtained by The Breeze offers a parody "parent's guide" to the PARCC test. The flier jokingly claims to be from the Rhode Island Department of Education.

"We're more than a bloated state agency, unaccountable to the public, full (of) token minorities and post-menopausal white chicks who haven't been in the classroom since Christ was a corporal," it states. "We're here to decide what's best for your children."

In total, 35 students at Jackie Walsh, or more than one-third of the 100 students eligible to take the test, opted out of taking it this week, according to DiCenso. Only 83 students of 5,441 eligible to take the test in the district have opted out, she said.

Pawtucket school administrators have said that PARCC assessments give them important information about the progress students are making and whether schools are making progress. It is designed to align with new Common Core teaching standards.

Opponents of the PARCC test have said the standardized assessment labels students unfairly and doesn't adequately reflect what they've learned in school, among other criticisms.

Jacqueline M. Walsh School students Maggie Roberts, left, of Pawtucket, and Hope Norton, of North Providence, start a chant as they hand out fliers during a protest over the discipline of Walsh English teacher Bill Ashton.


Making the PARCC test mandatory for our city's State Reps and Senators would give Pawtucket TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION!!! Our Pawtucket state house gang is a bunch of puppets, hypocrites, deadbeat dads, election cheaters, conflicts of interest, out-of-city residents, union stooges, incompetent phonies, and assorted criminals.

Since these crooks only lie when they're awake, we should move the General Assembly schedule to third shift.

Other than these clowns and the goofy corrupt "Gomer Pyle Junior" mayor, we're in great shape.

Tony Ashton, of North Attleboro, Mass., son of Jacqueline M. Walsh School English teacher Bill Ashton and a freshman at the school, leads 30 protestors in a chant during a protest at the school on Monday

So the kid doesn't live in Rhode Island or Pawtucket, yet he is a student there?

Ashton be conduct off the school basis by community in suits following he tell students that school financial support will not be precious by student’s opt out of the notorious PARCC trying. Any more teacher had knowledgeable the students that if 95% of the students did not get the trial, financial support would be cut and the school would be stopped. See at more:

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The Ashtons live in North Attleboro, Mass. Bill Ashton declined to comment on the situation when reached at home Monday. Fasteson deferred comment to Supt. Patti DiCenso.