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LETTER: Apology by Superintendent Malone isn’t enough

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Dear Superintendent Malone,

It has been a few weeks since news broke of your use of the R-word against a disabled staff member, amongst other disgraceful acts, and our school committee choosing not to follow their outlined guidelines around handling disciplinary actions. We met on Friday, 1/22/21 to discuss plans to move forward in the best interest of our students, staff and community and we have had minimal movement on those plans.

In previous correspondence, we discussed the path to moving forward needing to be paved with transparency, respectful truth-telling and accountability. This begins with you stepping forward to specifically acknowledge your use of the R-word and how it harmed our community. This is an imperative first step as it allows our staff, parents and caregivers, and, most importantly, our students see that mistakes, even ones that involve hate-filled language, need to be acknowledged as we work to repair relationships. This action sets the stage for more intensive work to begin. I was pleased to hear your willingness to consider acting on this suggestion especially since it did come from many families in our district.

I appreciate your attempt at this during the Special Education Parent Advisory Council Meeting on 2/1/21. However, I am concerned that you widened the chasm between the school administration and our families. While you did attend the last part of the meeting and you did utter the words “I apologize”, there were a few key points that exacerbated the situation we are finding ourselves in. First, you used the words “now is the time to move on.” In speaking with a group of families that have spent their children’s lives advocating for their right to inclusion and an appropriate education, it feels very dismissive of you to determine that NOW is the time. The time has always been here.

Another concern lies in the way that Michael Losche responded to you following your apology. He thanked you repeatedly for your attendance and acknowledged how difficult it was for you to issue that apology. I must remind you that the folks that are on the receiving end of your words and behaviors are the ones experiencing the difficulty. While accepting ownership for your behavior may not be an easy task, it is again dismissive of the student, parent and staff experience to acknowledge how difficult it is for YOU rather than those affected. This is not just about “hurt feelings” as you mentioned.

Additionally, while you stated that you were open to discussion and feedback, your actions during the meeting proved otherwise. Following your statement, it appeared as if you had intended to leave the meeting despite having several parents waiting to comment. It wasn’t until it was noted that parents were waiting that a question was heard. A parent addressed concerns about your behavior directly to you. You not only did not respond to her but you deferred to Michael Losche, again dismissing how difficult it was to express those concerns in a forum consisting of a majority of school personnel. There can be no transparency when you refuse to engage directly with families. The entire process appeared to be an optical attempt to engage families because, frankly, you left no room for engagement.

During the SEPAC meeting you indicated that you would be heeding the suggestion to establish a diversity and inclusion task force that will assist leadership in developing and implementing strategic initiatives that promote diversity while dismantling ableism, racism, sexism, genderism, heterosexism, classism, size-ism and other forms of discrimination. I understand that there is a committee within our school department comprised of teachers, paraprofessionals, and administrators. However, glaringly missing from this group are the very people it is serving – students, parents and other members of our community. As we discussed, the additional goal of this task force will be to promote participation in activities supporting diversity in our community as a whole. In order to do this, though, we must better engage our families of color, English-language learners, disabled adults and their children, neurodivergent families, LGBTQ+ families and other groups that reflect the makeup of our city. The systems of engagement must be in place in order to ensure that everyone not only has a seat at the table but to ensure that their voice is heard. What is the timeframe on setting up this task force?

We also discussed consistent diversity training for all members of our school community and you touched on this suggestion during the SEPAC meeting. Staff development needs to include everyone. Working to improve our school culture means EVERYONE receives the same message and is held to the same high standards. Our custodians, administrators, teachers, paraprofessionals, support staff, cafeteria workers, and school committee members all fulfill different roles in our students’ lives but are all essential in creating a unified culture of respect and dignity. However, it is clear that our administration needs to set an example for this change to take place. What is the time frame on setting up training that begins with our administration and our school committee?

It is essential to our growth and development as a community to see movement on these initiatives. We need to break the pattern of having these incidents take place and returning to the status quo.

We are all hopeful that we can use this negativity to spur positive change.

Sincerely,
Sara Rodrigues

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