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Daily Buzz | The Thing With The School Drama
School Committee meets tonight
I’ve been asked by a handful of people if I plan to cover the drama that’s been unfolding at Memorial School and within the district-level administration.
The short answer is no. But I think you deserve an explanation for that. So here’s the long answer.
First, a summary of the facts of what happened, because referring vaguely to “The Situation At Memorial School” isn’t working for me.
Some parents report a student at Memorial made sexually explicit references and physically abusive behaviors that affected other students in the class.
Some parents were dissatisfied with their perception of how the situation was handled.
This first came to my awareness months ago, so it appears to have been an ongoing issue.
Separately (or, I guess better stated: related, but it evolved into a separate issue), outgoing Memorial Principal Tara Harris wrote a farewell email to the Memorial community. In the email she referenced her race (she is Black) and also the support she gained from, and provided to, members of the faculty, parents, and students.
Some parents responded to that email with criticisms of Ms. Harris and a bit of a “good riddance” vibe, and Ms. Harris then shared their emails and names, along with her commentary about them, again with the Memorial School community.
Quickly, these messages began to circulate on social media and folks began adding their input.
A Facebook exchange, purportedly involving Ms. Harris and Assistant Superintendent Patrick Larkin, then began circulating, in which they mention “undercover racists,” apparently referring to the parents whose emails Ms. Harris shared. (I have no reason to believe this screenshot isn’t authentic, but I haven’t seen verification of it.)
This then led to a petition also circulating to relieve Mr. Larkin of his duties.
Okay. So there are many things at play here. Things happened, or didn’t happen, at the classroom, school, and district level. I’ve seen some firsthand accounts of these events, but mostly heard from second- and thirdhand sources and beyond.
I’ve been an educator for nearly half my life. I’ve worked in public district and charter schools and privately as a tutor. I’ve been a classroom teacher, special education teacher, curriculum developer, and school administrator. Currently I deliver professional development at the school and district level for an educational technology company. So you can say I’ve been involved with lots of different facets of education.
This is a more complex situation than many realize, and I get that people want answers and accountability, but it’s not that easy.
Starting at the classroom and school level, there are confidentiality laws in place that prevent folks from knowing what actions are taken to support or otherwise intervene with a student. There are a number of actions a teacher, school, or district could have and should have taken to address the situation with that individual student, including involvement of outside agencies. To the outside observer, it looks like “nothing is being done,” however, with laws the way they are and social services bursting at the seams with their client lists, sometimes a holding pattern is established that is nearly impossible (and takes months if not years) to get out of. If the school was delinquent in their mandated reporting responsibility, they’d be open to legal action. But if they did everything by the book and shared with another family the actions they took, they’d also be open to legal action for violating student confidentiality.
I have no idea what actions were or were not taken. But this is one reason we can’t presume to know the full story or expect to get it from the school. I also fully recognize this doesn’t mitigate whatever trauma was experienced by the other students in the class.
At the district level, there are still confidentiality regulations, but many of the complaints adults have made live right out in public. (And email is considered a public record, too.) Of course, everyone’s story is told from their own point of view and therefore might not be a well-rounded account of events, and we’re left to make sense of polarized individual accounts of what a person did or didn’t do.
So, like I said, the situation is complex. If I were going to report on what happened, or didn’t happen, I’d need to interview a metric ton of people. I’d have to go deeply into situations, wading the waters of confidentiality, and likely not get much more than people have already cobbled together from social media. For an unpaid one-person publication, that’s just untenable.
What I will share, though, is that I have observed folks making this into a binary situation. There seems to be an us-against-them sideism going on, and of course it’s falling along political and ideological lines. This will not do our town or our children any good. It is possible for many facts to be true at one time. One doesn’t mutually exclude the other.
We need to work together as a community to determine what’s wrong and what we want, and then we need to work together to figure out the best way to fix it.
How do we have difficult conversations with each other? Who can facilitate that? What are our policies around social media? How can we be sure the incoming Memorial principal feels safe and welcome and set them up to mend relationships that have been damaged among staff and community members?
Yes, these conversations will need to involve some awareness of race and how it plays into our relationships as a town. Yes, they will need to involve some empathy and socioemotional learning components. But most importantly, they will require members of our community from all persuasions to be able to sit in a room together and listen to one another with empathy and understanding and commit to work together for the future of our children and our town.
If you’ve got constructive ideas, leave them below. I’m sure there will be some discussion at School Committee tonight, as well.
Select Board Highlights
After all that, you probably don’t want to read a huge summary of the Select Board meeting. So here are some high-level points.
DPW director John Sanchez says the water ban is a big deal, yet hundreds don’t follow it. According to Sanchez, the majority of irrigation water use comes from residential properties (not businesses). He also states water levels are so low that we have been unable to pump water from the Shawsheen river for several weeks now and if residents don’t abide by the ban, our water supply may be put at risk.
Burlington turns 225 in 2 years, and resident Wayne Higden (whose podcast interview is alllllllmost ready to drop!) spoke about the early preparations for the celebration. This will be a great opportunity for residents from all corners of the community to learn about our past and present and look toward the future.
Pride month (June) and Parks & Recreation month (July) were proclaimed.
Beer garden Thursdays in September was mentioned, and at that point I stopped listening because I was clearing my September Thursdays.
Interested in more? Check the recording on BCAT.
Today in Burlington
Okay. So now that you have a non-answer-kind-of answer for that big question, here’s what’s going on in Burlington today.
7:00 PM - Land Use Committee will talk about adding members and a recording secretary and review the Municipal Vulnerability Planning (MVP) project related to the Vine Brook Aquifer (VBA).
That’s it for me today. See you tomorrow,