Social media is a blight on civilization, but I confess to having participated in some Timberlane-parent related sites. On August 30, a Hampstead parent made a post on the Speak Out Timberlane Facebook page saying that she had withdrawn her child from Hampstead Middle School. She went on to write, “The issues I had last year with the leadership was beyond anything I would ever expect from professionals in education.”
Just about one hour after that post, I replied: “I would very much appreciate hearing what issues you encountered if you care to share them with me. We can arrange to talk through my email email@example.com. Thank you and best going forward.”
That was the totality of my contact with this parent.
On September 1, the Timberlane School Board issued a revised agenda with this cryptic item added: “Hampstead Schools Issue – INFORMATIONAL (15 minutes).” I assumed this was about a horrible gaffe the SAU office had committed involving the Hampstead School District which I will not reveal, though I will say information went to the press that should not have left confidential circles. But no… instead of owning a horrible error by the office, the agenda item with its luxurious 15 minutes turned out to be devoted to moi! (Ratifying summer hiring of tens of professionals was given 5 minutes on the agenda, but I got 15. What prestige – or threat.)
The agenda item turned out to be a public excoriation for my above mentioned Facebook post. “How?” do you ask? Ah, now you must dredge the depths of educational politics.
The Slanderous Exchange
Email from Hampstead School Board Chairman to Hampstead School Board members and Timberlane School Board Chairman dated August 31, 2016:
Members of the Hampstead School Board,
Earlier today I became aware of a situation involving a member of the Timberlane Regional School District Board, and a Hampstead parent. I have attached a screenshot of the exchange for your reference. The situation involves Mrs. Donna Green contacting a Hampstead parent and asking for information about a student within the Hampstead School District as well as the actions or our employees.
To be clear about a few things:
Nothing prevents a Hampstead parent from talking with anyone (including Timberlane Board members) about their experience in Hampstead…however,
While the Hampstead and Timberlane districts share a Superintendent, and closely collaborate, neither has the authority or mandate to influence the operations of the other. Most especially members do not have the authority to investigate confidential student matters within the other district, or the actions of that district’s employees. This applies as well to the SAU 55 Board, as that Board is empowered to manage the SAU, not investigate member districts and confidential student matters within them.
At no time has the Hampstead Board (to my knowledge) requested or otherwise authorized Mrs. Green to investigate this student’s situation, or the actions of HSD employees.
At no time has Mrs. Green requested permission to investigate a confidential student matter within the Hampstead School District.
In point of fact, I am not aware of this family’s concerns ever coming to our Board, so I don’t actually know what precipitated this.
I am deeply concerned that if this is left unchecked, we expose ourselves to unwanted and undesirable consequences. Moreover, this has the potential to create great confusion among our staff members, parents, and students as to the chain of command and accountability within the Hampstead School District.
Accordingly, this will be added to our agenda for our next Board meeting. I have copied Peter Bealo, TRSD Chairman, on the e-mail so he is aware that this will be on our agenda. I don’t want to speak for Chairman Bealo, but I don’t believe Mrs. Green is acting on behalf of (or at the direction of) the Timberlane Board in investigating a Hampstead student’s experience at the Hampstead Middle School, nor is she acting on behalf of the SAU 55 Board.
Respectfully, Jason Cipriano
Here is Peter Bealo’s reply to Mr. Cipriano, dated August 31 at 9:56 pm:
Members of the Hampstead School Board,
I am shocked and appalled that any member of TRSB would take such inappropriate unilateral actions. I want to be clear that I was unaware of this activity and would never have sanctioned it had I know of it.
Tomorrow, Thursday, I will be holding a TRSB meeting. I will be bringing this issue up myself in public session and chastising this person for such gross and inappropriate activity. Prior to that meeting I will be speaking to one of our legal representatives to determine if there is further legal action that we, the TRSB, may pursue.
I am deeply saddened, ashamed and disgusted. Please accept my personal apology for this transgression.
Sincerely, Peter Bealo
And all of your elected representatives (except Stefanie Dube who comforted me privately) sat quietly while this was going on and said nothing – knowing of course, that they’ll be next if they use their position to promote accountable governance and oppose nepotism.
This is the government you have. It becomes the government you deserve when you do nothing about it. There’s another option, too. You can sit back and criticize my behavior at meetings. That’s a popular option enjoyed on Facebook.
Has anyone in Hampstead noticed that their school board chairman shows no curiosity or concern about a parent pulling a child from the district, but shows extreme concern that someone outside his direction might learn about it? Would it be reasonable to suggest to Mr. Cipriano that inventing out of whole cloth a grievance against me might be a way to distract from a real issue within his responsibility? As my children would say, “Oh, politics can be so cute!”
NOTE: I have chosen not to post here the screenshot of the original dialog on Facebook at the core of this incident. Although the parent concerned did post in public using their own name, I suspect that the consequences here were totally unexpected, and I do not wish to amplify that impact to the family concerned.