The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 19, 2000

News

Two new complaints filed against the Carlisle Schools

Two issues which caused the Carlisle School and town of Carlisle great headache, heartache and legal expense last year have resurfaced. A complaint against the Carlisle Public School, filed with the federal Office of Civil Rights (OCR) on April 6 alleges sexual harassment, according to Roger Murphy of OCR. In addition, a complaint has been filed with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) by Susan Greene, a Carlisle teacher who departed earlier in the school year and is slated to teach fifth grade next year.

While the OCR is not able to release the names in the case, the Mosquito was notified by former Carlisle resident Marion Alberico of the complaint. As many will remember, Marion and John Alberico had filed a similar complaint against the school in April 1999 but the investigation of sexual harrassment was halted when the Albericos filed the complaint with the MCAD in June, 1999.

At the May 16 school committee meeting, Superintendent Davida Fox-Melanson said that the school has yet to be notified and was unaware of the recent Alberico complaint to the OCR. She agreed that they had been notified by MCAD of the April 12 complaint by Greene.

Previous complaints

In a letter to the editor printed on November 12, 1999, Marion Alberico announced that they had withdrawn the complaint filed with MCAD. Citing the revised harassment policy and sexually harassment training for staff, Alberico explained that they had not sought to receive a monetary gain and could see that "changes are beginning to take place."

Fox-Melanson denied the allegations and stated that the district "had taken the appropriate action in the best interest of child in question as well as all children in the Carlisle Public Schools."

Letters from other former students and concerned citizens forced a continued, heated discussions of the issue and the school's handling of the matter at a number of school committee meetings into the new year. Middle school teacher language arts teacher Steve Bober identified himself in a letter to the school committee (printed in the Mosquito on January 7) as the subject of the investigation, including a lengthy explanation. There were several requests for an independent investigation.

On February 8, the school's Title 9 officer Dr. Linda Stapp reported that, after an internal review of a formal complaint that a student had been harassed by Bober in 1984, she found that the "behviors described dot not constitute sexual harassment." When a parent asked if the stories of three former female students had been included, Stapp responded that she did not investigate but took them into consideration, along with positive letters, for added perspective regarding the allegation that 'a pattern of inappropriate behavior' has been tolerated at the school.

Reasoning behind new complaint

Asked in a telephone interview why they are again pursuing the case, Marion Alberico alluded to the lack of investigation of the high school girls' complaints. She was also angered because the school committee stated in December that they would meet with them but their initial written request in January for a meeting with school officials was met with additional questions. So, believing that the school officials were not dealing in good faith, they decided to have an independent agency review the complaint.

Questioned at the May 16 school committee meeting about their response to a request for a meeting, chair David Dockterman said that, on the school attorney's recommendation, he had written a letter to the Albericos asking what information they would present and the names of the people involved. He explained that such information is required in order to have an executive session under the open meeting law. "The response [from Marion Alberico] was angry and the executive session never happened," he said Docterman added that he "never refused them an executive session" with the school committee.

Asked what she hoped for in the end, Marion Alberico responded, "what the school has missed is admitting that these situations happened and they were wrong. Instead, these children are removed and the children and parents are told it has never happened before. We want this documented and some kind of record that other people can go to."

In a telephone interview, Murphy, who is in the OCR in Washington, D.C., said it will take about 135 days to render a decision in the case and the investigation will begin by evaluating whether it should be considered a new case and whether OCR has jurisdiction. More specific information on the complaint is not available at this time. If a school is found not to be in compliance with the law and refuses to come into compliance, it could lose federal funding. If the school agrees to come into compliance, then OCR monitors the implementation of the agreement.

Complaint from teacher

While the Office for Civil Rights had halted their investigation of sexual harassment last year, they continued their investigation of the allegation by the Albericos that the school had retaliated against a teacher who provided a "safe haven" for their daughter. The OCR closed that investigation on October 22, finding no evidence of retaliation.

On a docket filed April 12, Susan Greene alleges that she was discriminated against by the Carlisle Public Schools on November 2, 1999. According to JeLesia Jones at MCAD, the case has just been assigned to investigators and should be resolved within 18 months. Jones said that she is not familiar with the case, but if the commission finds an organization has not followed the law, it has the authority to recommend such action as staff training or the payment of monetary damages.


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