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Guilt by Association

Some education students looking to do their student teaching in the Reading, Pa., area might find themselves viewed as personae non gratae.

Last month, the teachers' union there announced that its members would refuse to work with any student-teacher whose college sponsors a charter school. The boycott was in protest of two local charter school proposals, including one sponsored jointly by Albright College in Reading and a campus of Pennsylvania State University in that city.

In response, Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Eugene W. Hickok fired off a letter to the president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association.

"All Pennsylvanians should be outraged that some of your members are putting their opposition to charter public schools before the needs of the children they're supposed to serve," Mr. Hickok wrote.

Last week, the Reading school board unanimously rejected both charter applications, though their sponsors can appeal the decision. Either way, area union leaders continue to push their opposition to charter schools. The nearby PSEA local in Boyertown, Pa., approved the same kind of boycott, and supporters plan to put a similar measure to a regional union meeting later this month.

"It's sad that at times those who are maybe on the sidelines get hit with the flak, but that's what happens in any battle," said Richard Ashcraft, the president of the Reading Education Association.

Exactly how the union opposition might affect teachers-in-training is unclear. Albright College officials said three of their students were turned away when they tried to volunteer at a Reading school. But district officials said no student-teachers had been refused spots.

"The school board hasn't said, 'No, we're against [the union's action]' or 'Yes, we support it,' " said Missy L. Orlando, the spokeswoman for the 15,500-student district. "But we do know where they're coming from."

—Jeff Archer

Vol. 20, Issue 26, Page 18

Published in Print: March 14, 2001, as State Journal

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