Letter: School committee trying to write revisionist history

Posted 2/10/20

To the editor:

I was pleased to see this week’s headline: Schools drop lawsuit against student - until I began to read the full story. I had hoped to see the School Committee and Supt. …

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Letter: School committee trying to write revisionist history

Posted

To the editor:

I was pleased to see this week’s headline: Schools drop lawsuit against student - until I began to read the full story. I had hoped to see the School Committee and Supt. Michael Messore come to their collective senses and personally apologize to the student and his family for filing a lawsuit to begin with. They chose to go to court because a then-8th grader challenged a suspension that was ultimately deemed unwarranted - and overturned - by the Rhode Island Department of Education.

I also expected them to publicly apologize to taxpayers for spending money on a lawsuit that created terrible optics. The department insisted it was right to suspend the middle school student over comments he made among friends following the Parkland, Florida school shootings two years ago. They were comments that an internal investigation showed may have been ill-advised, but certainly were not a threat. 

And the committee, which authorized the suit, should apologize - as the stewards of taxpayer funds - to all of us, for not being able to give a public accounting of how much it has spent on this misguided litigation. (I guarantee you the legal counsel accounts for every minute of his/her time). 

Now the School Committee is trying to write revisionist history, saying it “never intended to subject the former 8th grade student to public scrutiny.” What did it think filing a lawsuit in Superior Court would do? What did the committee’s legal counsel tell members about the ramifications of litigation? I have often thought this about public/elected officials: If what they do winds up as the lead story on Channels 6, 10, or 12, or makes the front page of The Providence Journal, and not in a good way, would they still do it? Apparently no one thought about that simple question, resulting in this story becoming statewide news.

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that common sense eludes this committee. After all, then-chairwoman Megan (Call me “Dr.”) Douglas insisted after the Financial Town Meeting in May that a vote to cut $246,000 (the exact amount needed to implement a change in school start times) “was not a clear statement for or against anything in particular” and that the department would “find money” elsewhere in the budget to cover the cut - insisting implementation of the earlier start times would move forward as planned. This, from a School Department that often cries poverty and threatens to cut (popular) programs if they don’t get their requested amount, from a town that has been more than supportive over the years. If they can find a way to cover $246,000 by taking money from “somewhere else” and not miss a beat, maybe the budget isn’t as tight as we’ve been told all of these years.

The icing on the cake was reading a lengthy explanation about how the School Department mainly wants to preserve its authority to implement suspensions. Maybe everyone who had a hand in this lawsuit should consider this: If the student’s actions had actually warranted a suspension, maybe the state Department of Education wouldn’t have been so quick to reverse the School Department’s decision.

Jim Hummel

Barrington

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