The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, January 21, 2000


School committee puts an end to public discussion of complaints

The school library was packed for the January 18 Carlisle School Committee meeting with about 75 parents, teachers and interested citizens, many of whom had come to support the superintendent and school system. Chair David Dockterman, recognizing that the audience expected to hear about the recent complaints, opened the meeting with a statement, which included a report from the director of student services and Title 9 officer Linda Stapp.(See below)

Then, Superintendent Davida Fox-Melanson said that although she had prepared a five-page statement, the attorney had advised her not to make it public. However, she stated that there is "no finer school," including teachers, students and parents. "I poured my heart out into that report and I have poured my heart out for the school." She emphasized that "this is a safe and wonderful school for all the children of Carlisle." In response, there was an enthusiastic round of applause from the audience. Then the committee proceeded through the scheduled agenda.

Statement from CSC chair David Dockterman

"In the school committee's earnest attempt to understand what's going on, the committee has been a willing listener to all members of the community. Unfortunately, that openness has allowed personal attacks and unsubstantiated allegations to be voiced in public. That is unacceptable behavior, particularly at a time when one of our top system goals for the school is to raise the level of civility among the students. It is wrong for us to tolerate actions here, among the grown-ups, that we would never tolerate from our children.

"We have a process for dealing with complaints. Here's how it is supposed to work. A child has a problem. He or she tells someonea parent, a teacher, an administrator, a counselorabout it. Often, the problem is dealt with then and there. Sometimes, depending on the problem, it is taken to another levelto counselors, to the administration, to the Title 9 coordinator. The issue is investigated and responded to. If the complainants are not satisfied with the response, the policy and the law direct them to the federal Office of Civil Rights and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. These are independent, external agencies whose job it is to respond to these very issues. They have the expertise, knowledge, and neutrality to handle these matters in a complete and even-handed manner. These agencies investigate complaints brought to them, and, contrary to what has been said in public comment in a past meeting, they do consider past events as part of their investigations, as they did here in Carlisle during two days of interviews of administrators, teachers, and students.

"This process preserves due process, respects each individual's right to privacy and confidentiality, and ensures an objective and fair review if it is necessary. The school committee stands fully and unequivocally behind this policy and the people who implement it. We have complete faith in the administration and faculty of our schools to execute their duties and responsibilities with integrity and total professionalism. The public discussion about the issues that have dogged us for the past two months is over.

"Now, given that this situation has been driven into the public arena, we recognize that people in the community are looking for something more than an end to the discussion. To that end, I ask Linda Stapp, the Title 9 coordinator, to issue a statement about her investigation and findings."

Statement from Title 9 officer, Linda Stapp

"When an allegation of sexual harassment was brought forward in December 1998, it was fully investigated according to the policy in place at the time. It should be noted that the allegation did not allege any touching or any sexual comment or innuendo. Not being satisfied with the process, the involved family filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), who launched a full investigation, including two days of interviews of Carlisle personnel.

"As part of that investigation, a previous series of events were brought forward by the school as information to OCR. That information included allegations made in 1995 when four girls came forward as a group, to make a complaint. Two of those girls and their parents have subsequently made the allegations public, through letters to the Mosquito and previous school committee meetings.

"I have spoken with the parents of both families and, although they may disagree with the policy that was in place or how the situation was handled, both families have acknowledged that their complaint was investigated at the time. No new information regarding their complaint has been uncovered since that time.

"This entire matter has been charged with emotion and the allegations have been extremely public. This is typically a time when many allegations would surface if they are out there. Only one other allegation has come forward. I did receive information regarding a former student who was a seventh grade Carlisle student In 1984. I spoke with this former student, and I am still in the process of investigating her allegations. However, again, the complaint centers on the teacher being too complimentary to her and does not allege any touching nor any comments of a sexual nature.

"As part of my investigation, I have spoken with all previous supervisors of the teacher in question. I am continuing to seek out relevant information as it pertains to these very serious allegations.

"I am confident that my investigation will be completed in the very near future and at that time, I will have recommendations. I am hopeful that we can use this difficult situation to learn and grow as a school community, and to strengthen our resolve to maintain a civil and caring learning community. However, the best way to handle these complaints is through the procedures mandated by Title 9, namely, through my investigation of them in a confidential manner and not in public sessions of the school committee, where allegations and innuendo are aired.

"I continue to be available to investigate any allegations of sexual harassment within our school, I can be reached through the main office, or you can write to me and I will respond promptly."

Conclusion from the chair

"I want to reiterate that the school committee remains completely satisfied that the administration has responded appropriately, professionally, and in the best interest of child welfare to every complaint presented to it. We are convinced that our schools are safe, have been safe, and will continue to be safe. Further, we see continued evidence that our schools are really quite wonderful, led by a visionary and inspirational administration and populated by a dedicated and caring group of teachers and a fantastic group of kids. We are fortunate to have individuals of this caliber as part of our schools, and they have borne the brunt of a horrible public inquisition. We should never take them for granted. They are the ones who make it work.

"t is now time to move on. As far as the school committee is concerned, this issue is closed. Teachers and school personnel have been trained; we have policies in place; community outreach is ongoing. If anyone has a problem, there are clear avenues of action to pursue, spelled out in our policies, other than writing letters to the newspaper or making emotional accusations in the public forum of this meeting.

"I invite all of you to stay with us for our meeting and regular agenda. We have a report on the arts program, a presentation from our new library/media specialist, and a continued discussion of the school budget. You'll see some marvelous accomplishments, a reminder of what a great place for children this school is. And you'll hear our anxiety about how to keep it great in the face of a tight economic situation in the town. We have a lot of work to do, and a lot of healing to do. It's time to get on with it."

2000 The Carlisle Mosquito