South Hadley teachers begin ‘work to rule’ as contract negotiations continue


Image from SHEA public Facebook page

Members of the South Hadley Education Association gathered at the Town Commons for a rally on December 4.

Jerry Velazquez and Jonathan Grim

Over the past month, teachers in South Hadley have been engaged in an action known as “work to rule” in order to bring awareness to their current contract situation. The town’s roughly 270 teachers are in their second year without a contract, and as a result, voted at the beginning of November to only work within the stipulations of their contract. This means that teachers are no longer working outside of their contracted hours, which includes not replying to emails, printing, grading, or providing after school help.

“We, as a school community, are all affected by this,” said math teacher Gary Hall. Hall is known as a teacher who arrives early to school and leaves well after the day’s final bell. Hall said he is “not happy about [work to rule], but it’s our only recourse left.” 

Hall said one of the challenges of work to rule is that “less gets done because a large chunk of what I do is outside contract hours.” He also said that students’ grades could suffer and lessons would be less than optimal. Hall also noted that it would likely take teachers longer to enter grades since the only “free” time they have to do so is their 55-minute prep period. Hall also said he was concerned about some of his needier students not being able to come after school for extra help or to make up missing assignments.

Jacob Frank is a newly-hired history teacher at the high school, who worked last year as a student teacher with history department chair Tim Balut. Frank said that not being able to work outside of school would impact the amount of time it would take for him to input grades, and would also leave less time to print handouts and other class materials.

Frank said he found the prospect of work to rule “a little concerning,” but said teachers have a reason for doing it, noting that it “shows the community and the school committee how much teachers do outside of school.”

English teacher Amy Foley, president of the South Hadley Education Association, said that with inflation and the cost of living continuing to increase, work to rule became a necessity in order to help get teachers a fair contract. Foley said the last raise teachers received was for the 2020-2021 school year, and it was only a 1% increase.

Regarding the low pay for the district’s paraprofessionals, Foley noted there’s a state law that excludes cities and towns from having to pay employees minimum wage. The starting salary for paraprofessionals in the district is currently $12.17 per hour. Foley noted that because area communities pay paraprofessionals more, the district has had trouble filling positions. As a result, special education students with disabilities aren’t always able to get the help they’re entitled to according to their education plans. 

Foley said one reason the members of SHEA are engaging work to rule is to raise awareness so para educators and teachers can receive better wages, which in turn will allow the district to attract and retain the best possible staff. To that end, members of SHEA have held rallies around the town of South Hadley, with one of the largest being at the intersection of Routes 33 and 202 near the Plains Elementary School. Teachers from across the district, as well as students, parents, and educators from other communities came out for the rally. 

Reporter’s note: At press time, news broke that a tentative agreement had been reached between the school committee and the teachers union regarding the Unit E paraprofessional contract. The agreement, which has yet to be ratified by members or formally approved by the school committee, would increase paraprofessional pay by 17.5% over the 4-year contract, and educational teaching aid pay by 25% over the same period, according to Foley.