Subdued South Hadley School Committee meeting hears concerns
By WGGB Staff
SOUTH HADLEY, Mass. (WGGB) — Following a series of meetings that have seen police removing citizens, calls for the resignations of school officials and even the involvement of the American Civil Liberties Union, Wednesday’s School Committee meeting appeared controlled but still contentious.
At issue has been the school department’s handling of the suicide death of 15-year-old South Hadley High School freshman Phoebe Prince, who had allegedly been bullied. Her death resulted in a school investigation, which Principal Dan Smith led, and one Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel’s office led. The criminal investigation resulted in charges against a group of teenagers allegedly involved in the bullying.
Parent Luke Gelinas, who was removed from an April 14 meeting and since sought the involvement of the ACLU, was present Wednesday. He had previously publicly called for the ouster of School Superintendent Gus Sayer, School Committee member Edward Boiselle, who had been chairman at the time, and Smith.
On Wednesday, parents were allowed to speak, and the board addressed a letter from the ACLU criticizing Boiselle for ordering Gelinas removed from a meeting. At the time, Boiselle had said Gelinas was discussing information Prince’s family didn’t want public. The current chair said Boiselle had no intention of violating his rights, but didn’t want to interfere with the ongoing criminal investigation and wanted to protect the privacy of Prince, which is part of school policy.
Gelinas said Wednesday bullying is still a problem in the school system, and a female teacher had allegedly recently been heard defending the students accused of bullying Prince. He said he felt what he had heard of the teacher’s actions was inappropriate, and he forwarded the information to Sayer, but questioned if anything had been done. He questioned the board, but the members reminded Gelinas that they had no obligation to answer questions during a public comment period.
Sayer said the Anti-Bullying Task Force formed in the wake of Prince’s death has been meeting once a month, and has been making progress. He also said a new anti-bullying policy should be presented to the board in June.
Gov. Deval Patrick recently signed into law anti-bullying legislation in response to the suicide deaths of Prince and 11-year-old Carl Walker-Hoover of Springfield.