A Shot in the Dark: The Attempted Movement Against RIF

This article was written by Journalism student, Cody Young.


It was a quiet Saturday afternoon on April 6th, when a student would mark the beginning of a movement. Little did he know, this message would be the spark for a fire far out of his control—resulting in an overwhelming situation in IT and several account suspensions. 


“Dear fellow students and teachers,


Well, isn’t this just peachy? It seems our beloved Alex Donelson is on the

chopping block for a spring layoff. Because we all have nothing better to

do than watch one of our own get booted out the door, am I right?


But fear not, dear comrades, for I come bearing a solution. Let’s rally

together and save poor Alex from becoming another casualty of corporate

downsizing by filling out this Google Forms quiz.


Because who needs job security when we can just keep playing this little

game of “Who Gets the Axe Next?”


So, let’s put a stop to this madness and show our support for Alex before

he ends up drowning in a sea of “We’ll miss you” and “Sorry to see you go”

emails. Because God forbid we actually do something productive, right?


Yours desperately, John (Wolf) Cornwall”


Wolf Cornwall—a middle school student at U-32—emailed a random collection of students, including several teachers, regarding one of U-32’s most recent algebra teachers, Alex Donelson’s departure from U-32 next year on what he called “the chopping block.” Wolf Cornwall is in Alex Donelson’s TA.

“The first two or three hours I wasn’t on my phone, and I had no idea this was going on,” said Alex. He was not on the list of teachers who received the email, so he was left entirely in the dark. “I got texts from colleagues who were like, ‘Have you seen your email?’ I’m like, ‘No’, and I go check my email. There’s nothing in there.” The administration deleted the initial email within hours. So then, what was the issue?


Wolf copied the U-32 IT Help Desk in his email, and it opened a ticket to everyone in the initial email that had been sent.


Mark Kline—the Director of Technology in IT—said, “When somebody [opens] a ticket or we close a ticket, it sends a notice to everybody that’s involved in the ticket to let them know [it’s been opened/closed].” They had not thought about the effects of having multiple people copied in the email. “I don’t think we’ve got a perfect solution yet. It’s a case where you’ve got a system that works if it gets used, right… maybe we can figure out a way to prevent lots of people from being attached to an email,” said Mark.


Mark Kline is hard at work at his job in IT (Cody Young/The Chronicle)


In an attempt to solve the issue of emailing multiple people, IT made it so you could only tag a limited number of recipients in an email at once. It was a temporary issue and was subsequently changed. 


“It’s frustrating because it’s the weekend and you end up trying to figure out a way to keep people from being disrupted or inconvenienced,” said Mark. “[We were] trying to figure out: is there a setting we can change so that people [who get emails] on their phone [wouldn’t be] constantly getting these emails?”


Accompanying the potential for disturbance, IT wanted to ensure that everyone knew it wasn’t a cyber risk or a type of phishing or malware attack. “I think it’s just an inconvenience,” said Mark.


One of Mark’s main points centered around a hopefulness that any students involved hadn’t known that their email would cause such a disruption. “What I would hope is that the student who did this could understand, first of all, IT wasn’t the place to [email] because it’s not a tech question. And then, hopefully, he realizes to some degree how many people were inconvenienced, scared, and nervous,” said Mark.


Steven Dellinger-Pate—U-32’s principal—wants to ensure that students know they have the freedom to express their thoughts, but doing so in a way that doesn’t cause harm. He said, “What we try to do is deal with it on a personal level. Is this something that is an appropriate use of technology? And is everybody who’s a part of it consenting to be a part of it?… Making sure that there was nothing that was said that was vulgar or inappropriate in that kind of way.”


Steven pushes for acceptable ways of protest. “You can write a letter to school boards, you can write them to superintendents, [to your] student representatives… Free speech is always an interesting thing. There are limitations to what you can and can’t do.” 


Steven’s rationale focuses on teaching students the right ways to express their opinions. “Our job is to help develop your ability to do those things, but it’s not necessarily to provide you with, you know, a protest,” said Steven. “It’s like a walkout. We want to encourage students to exercise their First Amendment rights, and we want them to develop those skills, but at the same time, it’s not [administration’s] job to organize or provide the organization for the protest or the walkout. All of that is the student’s responsibility.”


However, despite teaching the skills on how to protest and express your First Amendment rights properly, there are still consequences. “Our job is to teach you that there could be consequences to civil disobedience, not necessarily to provide you the medium to do that,” said Steven. “We did change access privileges so that people don’t just have access to do whatever they want. While this message was not inappropriate in its content, we want to guard against anything happening in the future that would be inappropriate. If you use school email, then we have a right to [disable] it because we own it.”


The administration disabled Wolf’s email about 20 minutes after the email was sent. Garth Kurts—another middle schooler at U-32 involved in the emails—sent another email on Wednesday, April 17th, using the same method with IT, but it was instead stopped immediately. Garth’s account was disabled and eventually deleted about 10 minutes after he sent it. His email has since been reactivated and restored.


Garth Kurts’ email that opened another IT ticket (Cody Young/The Chronicle)


Wolf said, “This email was supposed to cause an uproar and my account would have been shut down for sure, and this is why I sent this email on a burner email account (anonymousU32student@gmail.com).” Wolf sent a follow-up email on Thursday, April 18th, explaining the current situation and how his and Garth’s accounts were disabled, ultimately focusing their fire on, as he said,  “WCUUSD, the agency responsible for firing my TA.” 


Discussing the initial email that caused the IT situation, Wolf said, “I did not make any attempt not to reach IT with the initial email, I also did not have the intention of creating a ticket that everyone would receive additional messages on.”


Alex Donelson will be going through a reduction in force (RIF), which is not a reflection of his work as a teacher, but rather his lack of seniority. Because of the school’s recent budget issues, U-32 has to cut a set amount of positions in the school, and math positions are abundant this year.


“I kind of knew it was coming. But when I found out for sure, I told my TA. And I’ve been pretty open about [how] I’m not going to be here next year,” said Alex. “So, when I [hear about] these emails, especially that first one, it was very heartwarming. It was like, all this love and support coming in, you know?” There is nothing that can happen to save Alex from the inevitable, but he wishes the students involved would go about it differently.


“It’s definitely turning into something that’s not about me anymore, which I kind of like. Don’t make it about me, make it about why we are deciding to cut a math position,” said Alex.


Alex doesn’t promote the way Wolf and Garth are handling their protest. He said, “Now they know that they can really mess with it by sending out a mass email like that can cause a lot of chaos, this is an act of civil disobedience. They can take that route if they want, but they need to understand there will be consequences.” Like any protest, it’s not directly promoted by the school. “If you protest and you get in trouble for protesting, that’s the price you pay for a cause you’re willing to fight for,” said Alex.


“Alex is my tennis coach this year and I would like to keep him as a tennis coach for years to come,” said Aiden Trepanier, a sophomore at U-32. “It [otherwise] doesn’t really affect me a whole lot. I don’t have Alex as a teacher. I don’t see him very often.”


Aiden said, “I don’t think the student voice has enough power to [change anything about Alex Donelson leaving]. But, it’s nice that people can actually try and make a difference.”


Additionally, Cavan Farrell—also a sophomore at U-32—said, “Alex is my Algebra 2 teacher, and [it’s] a little bit upsetting to see him go. But there’s not really anything we can do [about it].”


Other students have differing opinions on the methods that people use to protest. “Not only is it not really going to do anything, it’s also just silly to me,” said Arwa Meiloud, another sophomore at U-32. “I understand that it was probably frustrating to [Wolf and Garth]. For other people, it may signify that students don’t have a voice, and if you say something that the school disagrees with, they will just let you down. I do, however, understand why the school might want to do that if it was causing a disruption.”


Arwa said, “I personally don’t really feel like we have much of a choice in that matter.” Despite existing efforts to form a movement, most students believe that doing so won’t be effective, thinking that the best they can do is accept reality.  

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