READING – The School Committee Thursday night experienced a policy, common sense and cultural decency meltdown over a vile disgusting email letter sent to a staff member.
Initially doing the right thing Superintendent of Schools John Doherty referred the email from a demented anonymous individual to Reading Police who determined it bounced off servers in Europe and was untraceable.
The well thought out established policy of ignoring anonymous unsigned letters or now more likely emails was itself ignored apparently primarily through the urging of School Committee member Shawn Brandt with support from fellow member John Parks. That duo urged the publishing of the email which offends all sensibilities with four letter words, anatomical references and anti LGBTQ rhetoric apparently to use it as an excuse to condemn the letter to departing Reading Memorial High School Principal Kate Boynton in some (misguided?) effort to show their support for the school staff (which in this case goes unsaid.)
The controversy began with Parks who obtained the letter from an unnamed source and sent it to Brandt and not the remainder of the committee. They developed a proclamation which they wanted voted on and included in the packet condemning the letter (to support the staff?). They then apparently either convinced Dr. Doherty and or the School Committee chair Chuck Robinson to allow the distribution of the smut by publishing it in the School Committee packet. That packet which includes the agenda and information on topics to be covered at the School Committee meeting and included the letter was later retracted and resent without the vile correspondence but with the proposed proclamation condemning the letter and intimidation and harassment of staff.
Robinson ruled that the proclamation could not be voted on because it violated the open meeting law which allows votes on items contained on the agenda 48 hours in advance. He said it could be voted on at the next school committee meeting. However the normally rock solid veteran School Committee chair also supported (against committee policy) the publishing the smut letter in the packet for the next meeting.
All this was too much to take for School Committee member Carla Nazzaro who demanded to know why the remainder of the School Committee was not made aware of the vile missive until the morning of the meeting (March 18). She said the letter should have been handled as an private operations issue (internally by the schools) and sent to the police (which it was) and claimed placing the vile garbage in the packet was a “clear lack of judgement and common sense” and she was “horrified” that the letter going after a staff member would be in the agenda packet.
She felt the letter was “so disgusting it should have been immediately ignored” and they were now asked to vote on something which should have been ignored. She charged the incident “showed poor management decisions all around”.
Brandt retorted the committee needed to give a public show of support for the staff and LGBQ students.
Robinson agreed and so did Errin Gaffen saying in part it was “disgusting and hateful” but disagreed it should remain private saying it was part of an escalating pattern in town of people hiding behind anonymity to bring up hate and harassment, “it needs to be called out, it won’t be tolerated”.
For his part Powers said it was not an easy decision to share the letter and he checked with Boynton who gave her approval, before he did so. He said the letter was threatening which was one reason to take the course of action proposed by himself and Brandt. (However, a reading of the short disgusting rant from the deranged individual by this reporter snowed no direct threat or implied action in the letter.)
School Committee member Tom Wise was largely silent on the issue which he said consumed his thoughts all day and felt publishing the trash would embolden people to do this more and felt” shining a light” on the article was not the best solution but he supported the proclamation condemning such activities.
The whole mess will be revisited at the next meeting.