Robin Rockey taught second grade at St. Anthoney-Immaculate Conception School for more than 20 years. (Photo courtesy Shirley Busch)

Robin Rockey taught second grade at St. Anthoney-Immaculate Conception School for more than 20 years. (Photo courtesy Shirley Busch)

Parents fight for reinstatement of teacher they say was fired for delaying return to classroom

Former students and parents of a Catholic school teacher are urging her reinstatement after she was reportedly fired for not returning to in-person teaching.

Alumni and parents last week launched a petition for St. Anthony Immaculate Conception School to rehire Robin Rockey, a second-grade teacher known as the “Halloween Queen” who separated from the school earlier this month after 23 years of teaching there. Rockey’s supporters allege the immunocompromised teacher in her 60s was fired after seeking an extension for her three-month medical leave from teaching in-person.

The Catholic school teacher’s departure comes as educators became eligible this week to be vaccinated, a prerequisite for unionized public school staff to return over workplace safety concerns.

Rockey was initially told the school might be able to work out an unpaid extension until she was vaccinated should Principal Barbara Moodie agree. But she was informed she was no longer employed by the Archdiocese on Feb. 8, according to supporter and friend Shirley Busch.

“Everybody loves Ms. Rockey and we’re all very upset,” said Busch, whose 21-year-daughter was Rockey’s student. “It’s just very devastating. She’s just beside herself.”

The San Francisco Archdiocese declined to comment, citing a policy that bars discussing personnel matters, and did not respond to a more general query about teachers who are reluctant to return over coronavirus concerns. Rockey herself preferred not to talk to the press.

Monica Ortega, the parent of a former student of Rockey’s who remains in the Archdiocese system, said she would attend school events just to be around Rockey again. She also pointed out Rockey is close to retirement but might miss out on her pension and have a tough time finding a job.

“She’s almost like a family member,” Ortega said. “When you think of St. Anthony’s, you think of her. She brings so much joy to children. It’s hard to see a teacher suffering during these hard times when it wasn’t something she did with ill intent.”

Busch hoped to present the petition and lobby to reinstate Rockey this week but was met with the same response, that it was a confidential personnel matter. The school, located in Bernal Heights, posted Rockey’s position last week on Craigslist and said it was “to begin immediately.”

“We are proud of the leadership, faculty and staff at every Archdiocesan school,” Pamela Lyons, Archdiocese superintendent of schools, wrote in an email to Busch on Wednesday. “The principals of each school have the responsibility to their students and families to ensure the school is appropriately staffed to meet the needs of their student body, and work diligently, often sacrificially, to do so.”

SAIC is one of 96 private and parochial school sites open for in-person instruction during the coronavirus pandemic. About 44 schools have had at least one case of the virus, while less than five sites have reported outbreaks.

The in-person instruction at many private schools is often cited by critics of continued distance learning in the San Francisco Unified School District, which has a unionized staff that has pushed for strong safety standards. The school board on Tuesday ratified a health and safety agreement with unions to return under the red tier with vaccines made available, or under orange regardless of vaccines.

Rockey sought to return to work once she received a vaccine, which occurred this week, making her firing all the more pointless, Busch said. Supporters have repeatedly pointed out the apparent injustice of the situation, particularly coming from a Catholic school that teaches compassion.

“I don’t feel like making this action exemplifies what they taught at the school,” said Taylor Torres, a former student of Rockey. “Everyone should have the right to protect themselves and be safe. She still has a lot of people to impact with her love, care, and knowledge. She makes the school what it is.”

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