CHATHAM – A split school committee declined to send a letter to Monomoy Regional High School department heads apologizing for comments made at the group's March 23 meeting.
The committee voted 3-2, with one member abstaining, not to send a letter apologizing for what the department heads, in a letter to the school committee, had said were violations of the committee's norms and protocols. The teachers said they felt that committee members had violated the policy in their questions and responses to a presentation about changes to the school's program of studies.
Although the letter did not name specific school committee members, it was clear from the context that it was targeting comments made by Karen Ryder, Sharon Stout and Terry Russell. At its April 13 meeting, the committee voted that Russell had not violated the norms and protocols, but took no action on Ryder and Stout, both of whom declined to apologize for their comments.
Last Thursday, chairman Brian Widegren once again raised the issue, saying he wanted to make sure everyone had an adequate opportunity to respond. Russell said the same action taken about his comments should be followed regarding the other two committee members.
“I don't think one out of three should be expected to explain away what the teachers thought was happening,” he said.
While the norms and protocols, which the committee adopted last October, are clearly designed for the group's own internal use, it was clear that members weren't as well acquainted with them as they should be, said member Nancy Scott.
“If we were, we wouldn't have had that conversation,” she said, adding that there needs to be some closure with department heads.
“Our words and our tones are important, and we need to remember that,” she said.
Committee member Stephen Davol moved that the chairman send a letter to high school department heads apologizing for the treatment they received, and stating that the school committee “sincerely apologizes” to the public at large for the time spent dealing with the issue.
That brought a response from committee member Donna Richardson, who stated that asking questions and making “heartfelt statements” were part of their job.
“We are passionate about our responsibility, and for that I am thankful,” she said. The chief issue that sparked some of Ryder and Stout's comments that teachers took issue with had to do with the elimination of government as a required course. Richardson said the committee could use more instruction in government and civics, “only for the purpose of understanding debate and give and take, because it's not happening.”
Ryder said she did not think an apology was warranted. “There was no personal attack on any one person,” she said, although she cited comments by Davol, who said he was embarrassed to serve with the other school committee members, and Principal Bill Burkhead, who also said he was embarrassed by the response to the curriculum presentation, as being closer to personal attacks than comments committee members made during that March 23 meeting.
“It was all directed toward curriculum and our disagreement and questions about the curriculum,” Ryder said. “And that is our right and responsibility.”
Russell said his takeaway was that tone is important and the committee needs to do a better job managing that. “I think that's what the staff and department heads picked up immediately,” he said. This was an opportunity, he added, to end what he perceived as divisiveness and become a more unified committee.
But committee member Jackie Zibrat-Long said she wanted no part of an apology letter. If other committee members want to apologize, that's fine, she said, but she had nothing to apologize for.
“Everyone's responsible for their own behavior here; it is not my job to tell you how to act and how to talk at these meetings,” she said.
Davol's motion failed 3-2, with Stout abstaining.
Stout said she met with social studies department head David Alexander and told him her March 23 comments were not meant “to shoot the messenger.”
“I think that portion is resolved,” she said.