• Local
  • El Paso, Texas
  • more weather >
David Scribner
The entrance to Mt. Everett Regional High School and the offices of the Southern Berkshire Regional School District in Sheffield.

Turmoil at SBRSD: Teacher’s Facebook post seen as reflection of larger problems

More Info
By Tuesday, Sep 4, 2018 News 9

Sheffield —A social media post over the holiday weekend by a faculty member at Mount Everett Regional School has prompted an uproar in the school community. But it appears the post, which concerned safety and a “hostile work environment,” was misinterpreted by some parents who feared their children might not be safe on the Mt. Everett and Undermountain campus.

Science and technology teacher Jim Berlstein.

The post by science and technology teacher Jim Berlstein was troubling enough that a staff member of the Southern Berkshire Regional School District alerted the Sheffield Police Department to it. The post was subsequently deleted. 

In the post, Berlstein, who is in his 19th year in the district, said he was issuing “a warning” to the school community: 

“For 18 years, I have worked in a wonderful and productive educational environment. ALL of that is changing this year. We are now enduring a … hostile work environment.” 

The phrase “hostile work environment” is a term defined in U.S. labor law. It “can result from the unwelcome conduct of supervisors, co-workers, customers, contractors, or anyone else with whom the victim interacts on the job, and the unwelcome conduct renders the workplace atmosphere intimidating, hostile, or offensive,” according to the federal Department of Labor’s Civil Rights Center. 

See Mount Everett faculty member Jim Berlstein’s Facebook post that started the controversy:

Berlstein ended his post ominously, adding that, “I choose not to be more specific at that time. It is not safe. Even this is not safe. Please help us.”

In an email to The Edge Tuesday, Berlstein apologized for the uproar he had caused with his post, saying that he did not mean to imply there was any danger to students, faculty or staff but that he was trying to alert the community to educational and pedagogical issues that he considered it critical to be addressed:

“I would like to apologize for my imprecise use of language, which caused some people to believe that there was a threat to the school. That was never my intent. I only wanted parents and students, both past and present, to know about the sudden deterioration of the working conditions at Mt. Everett High School, and the ever-increasing anxiety among the staff that it is causing. We do our best to love and teach all of your children, but we can’t do it as well when we feel like prisoners.”

Sheffield Police Chief Eric Munson.

The Sheffield Police Department posted a news release on Monday about “an ambiguous and concerning post made by a staff member of SBRSD” on Sunday. Chief Eric Munson said he was first contacted by Sheffield Police Officer Tricia Zucco, who serves as the district’s half-time school resource officer.

Zucco also alerted Regulbuto and “a thorough investigation was conducted.” Munson added that officers in his department were on hand this morning to greet students and parents and address any concerns they might have. 

“The mood this morning at the campus was fine and it seemed like every other morning drop off. The subject Mr. Berlstein was interviewed at the police station yesterday afternoon and there are no criminal charges being sought,” Munson told the Edge on Tuesday. 

“School officials were notified about the outcome of the interview and they will handle things moving forward,” Munson added. “I want to stress that at no time was any students’ or staff members’ safety in jeopardy.” 

SBRSD Superintendent Beth Regulbuto.

Superintendent Beth Regulbuto did send out an email to the school community Monday night in which she said Berlstein “demonstrated very poor judgment, and the District is taking appropriate steps to address this issue seriously.” Click here to read it.

Regulbuto repeated many of the things Munson said and added that, “I am confident that our schools remain a very safe place, and that we will continue to take any potentially problematic situations brought to our attention seriously, and we will respond in a timely manner using our best professional judgment.” 

Shortly before this article was published, Regulbuto responded to a query from the Edge asking her to address Berlstein’s concerns about what he called a “hostile work environment.  

“I cannot comment on personnel matters,” she said.

Asked to confirm or deny that Dean of Student Kurt DeGrenier has been suspended, Regulbuto responded:

The District is in receipt of a complaint brought by a former Southern Berkshire Regional School District employee against one of our staff members. The District promptly investigated the complaint, in accordance with its policies and legal obligations. Please understand that due to privacy and confidentiality rights of the individuals involved, I cannot comment further on the specifics of this complaint or the investigation findings.

What I can share with you, however, is that we take any allegations of this type or nature seriously, as it is our commitment to provide a safe and supportive environment for all students and staff.  I want to assure all that at no point was the safety of any member of the school district community at risk.

* * * * * *

See below the Sheffield Police Department’s news release on Facebook:

 

The reports of Berlstein’s post quickly spread on social media. The Edge reached out to half a dozen parents who commented on the Sheffield Police Department’s Facebook page, but with only one exception, they either did not respond or declined to comment on the record.

Some parents appeared to be confused about whether Berlstein’s post concerned actual safety at the school or his frustration with his own employment situation — or perhaps the employment situation of everyone on the faculty and staff.

“Parents including me want to know why a teacher in the high school posted that no one is safe … and put it out in regards to the Southern Berkshire School District,” one commenter, a parent, said on the police department Facebook page. “Lots of parents want answers.” 

Others complained about high turnover in the district and commended Berlstein for his bravery in speaking out. Another parent added that, “Ppl [sic] we’ve trusted and built a trusted relationships with have been removed and/or feel they are in a hostile work environment where voicing concerns on policy could get them fired.”

One parent, Jessie Laine of New Marlborough, sent an email on Sunday to Mount Everett Principal Glen Devoti asking about why the popular DeGrenier is no longer at the school. Laine posted the email on her Facebook page. Click here to read it. Laine said as of Tuesday evening she had not received a response.

In an Edge interview, Laine said she thinks Berlstein’s post was “a last resort” and “absolutely a reflection of something larger going on in the district.”

“By no means was I concerned with my kids safety,” Laine said. “Obviously, they have an internal problem.” 

Over the weekend, a group of school district community members hastily set up a Facebook page entitled “Save SBRSD.” The page’s administrators call it “a forum for parents and members of the Mt. Everett community.”

Berlstein began teaching at Mount Everett in 2000. He teaches technology, 3D design, engineering, and physics. Berlstein holds a B.S. in biology from Yale University and an M.A. in aquaculture from the University of Washington in Seattle. Click here to read his biography, which was still on the district website as of Tuesday evening.


More by »
»

9 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Amy Gallagher says:

    There are many students who would have written this teacher’s post themselves if they could have over the years (if you exchange “hostile work environment” for “hostile learning environment”.) the only difference is that no one would have paid attention to it and if they had I shudder to think of what would have happened to that child if their post was discovered. The dysfunction runs deep in this district with many systemic issues. The finger pointing is extreme in regard to blame in this district with little to no self reflection. There is a rotating door when it comes to administrative turnover. This is without a doubt a top down organization and these are the individuals who are responsible at the end of the day and they should be held accountable.

  2. SC says:

    SBRSD labors under its loyalties to old local families and shudders under outside scrutiny. Glenn Devoti is a mensch and I wish him the best throughout this upheaval.

  3. SC says:

    District consolidation?

  4. Casey says:

    I am really confused and hope someone can clear this up for me. Upon speaking with friends employed by SBRSD, they are saying the “hostile work environment “ is taking away extra “prep” periods as a free time to making them work. Meaning having to stay on campus. They have said that they will need to stay on campus and be held accountable for the 7 hours they are being paid for. I asked my husband if he had all this extra time at his job at BD. We all know the answer to that. The community has asked the school board every year to “ cut the budget” tighten your belt. So they try, and the same community crucifies them on social media. If a 19 year teacher can’t except change, something that is preached to students all the time, it may be time to go find that part time job. The one that you only work 4 hours. Maybe he had way too much free time, and we, the tax payers, have been paying him to do nothing? Go shopping? Banking? Out to lunch? I know what is expected of me when I go to work. I do not have 2-3 “free periods”. I go in work my 8 hours and pray that our bank is never robbed. I understand that the elementary teachers, though they share the same contract, are with their student almost the entire day.
    So I guess my question is do we want accountability from our teachers? Is the school superintendent out of line asking for it? An old saying from my Mom comes to mind, “ you can’t have your cake, and eat it too!”

    1. Sam says:

      I think you are seeing about 2% of the whole picture here. There is a lot more to it than just being able to leave campus. On that note though, I can assure you that high school teachers do not have the amount of free time that you assume they do. Planning and meeting are only a small amount of what is expected of them. At the top of the very tall list is taking care of not only the academic needs of our community’s students, but the social and emotional ones as well. Lunch break is never a break – most teachers I know spend their lunch “breaks” with their students or work right through. I know a lot of teachers – suggesting that they work for only 4 hours a day is pretty laughable.

  5. John says:

    I would suspect that Mr Berlstein is quickly learning to take responsibility for his actions.
    Perhaps, it is time Mr Berlstein considered a job outside a school system, and experienced a job in the private sector. 5 years in the private sector, and I am sure he would become a more rounded individual, and then be a much better teacher.
    Aside from this, issue, we encourage drug testing for all teachers.

  6. Valerie George says:

    The only time the teachers should be allowed to leave school is during their lunch period, which is approximately 30 minutes long. They use free periods to be gone for extra time, but they should be at the school for teacher planning time and teacher conferences.

    1. sam says:

      Speak to any teacher – ask them how long their lunch breaks are. After class ends, teachers typically stay back to answer questions or check up on individual students. They might then walk to where their lunch is, eat quickly and then take time to prepare for the next class. I would say, a break, if any would be about 15 minutes. However, most teachers work right through their lunch breaks. Meetings, counseling sessions (because on top of academics, this is now expected of teachers), extra help, etc.
      To say that teachers “shouldn’t be allowed to leave school” seems pretty harsh and insulting. These are professional, most with 2 degrees, who are doing one of the most difficult and stressful jobs in this day. Maybe some appreciation is in order – “hey teacher – thanks for taking care of my kids – please go off campus for 5 minutes and get yourself a coffee. you deserve it” – see, is that so hard?

      1. Casey says:

        Yes, I agree that some teachers will spend some of their lunch period with their students. They went into teaching to help students succeed, to become healthy and happy individuals ready to move forward in life. This has not changed since my school years. We had those teachers that “were always there for you” and those that weren’t.
        Unfortunately, Many things have changed since my school days. There are stricter safety rules in place to protect campuses. In the 5 minutes that you say it would take to run to town to grab coffee, (we all know it takes longer than that) an incident could occur that requires all hands on deck. Everyone in a school has a job to do. That is what they practice for every year. Fire drills, evacuations, lock downs, and other drills that have to be done. And what happens to the students if the staff is not there? Who is there to guide them through this? You can say that this is far fetched but it only takes one incident, as we have heard on the news, that can change the community for ever.
        My children have come home from school after drills and said, Ms so and so, Mr so and so weren’t there when we practiced our drill today. When we got outside we couldn’t find them in our spot so Mrs so and so took care of us along with her kids. You must remember that the campus houses kids from age 3 to 18 or 19, preschool through grade 12, not just the high school.
        I’m sorry but they should have been on campus.

What's your opinion?

We welcome your comments and appreciate your respect for others. We kindly ask you to keep your comments as civil and focused as possible. If this is your first time leaving a comment on our website we will send you an email confirmation to validate your identity.