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The Scituate School Committee sub-committee that was and wasn't
At least three people wasted their time wandering around an empty high school complex searching for a meeting that may or may not have been happening...
On September 7 the Scituate School Committee Policy Sub Committee posted an agenda for a meeting to take place on September 12th with eight agenda items. 24 hours and 20 minutes later the School Committee updated the agenda with one additional item. On September 12th I drove to 94 Trimtown Road, and arrived at the Scituate High/Middle School complex. Once there, I tried to figure out what room the meeting was taking place in. It was not obvious or posted anywhere.
We wandered about the Scituate High/Middle School complex searching for a scheduled meeting to no avail…
Finding a way into the school through an open cafeteria door, I entered a hallway and met two teachers. I asked if they knew about the meeting and one of the teachers told me that such meetings usually take place in the School Library, or, if they are too large, in the School Auditorium. One of the teachers graciously walked me to the library, where the librarian noted that she had a notice indicating that yes, the meeting was going to be in the library. I was invited to make myself comfortable and wait 20 minutes or so until the meeting would begin.
As I waited and scrolled through social media on my phone I suddenly realized I had been alone for the entire 20 minutes, and no one had shown up. I got up and was about to search for someone to assist me when I ran into Jenna, who identified herself as a parent. She was also going to the meeting and was surprised that no one was there. She suggested we check out the auditorium, which was dark and locked when we got there.
We met another parent, Andrea, who was also trying to locate the meeting. We went back to the library, and Andrea checked out the cafeteria. No one was there. All three of us checked our phones and our sources. There was no indication that the meeting had been canceled or postponed. If the meeting was taking place somewhere in the large, two-school complex, we could not find it and no one seemed able to help us.
I spoke to Andrea and Jenna, who had both arranged childcare for their kids and left work early to attend the meeting.
Andrea: I'm a resident of Scituate, Rhode Island. I have two children in the Scituate school system.
Steve Ahlquist: And we're here at the school committee subcommittee meeting that seems to not be happening.
Andrea: Correct. I was hoping to speak in favor of the Transgender, Gender Non-Conforming, and Transitioning Students policy, but nobody has shown up.
I made plans for my children for the evening so I could attend. And yet nobody is here.
Steve Ahlquist: I didn't see a cancellation.
Andrea: I would think they would make some sort of announcement via the email system that the town has in place because I'm a part of that email blast.
Steve Ahlquist: And you didn't get anything on that?
Andrea: No, I did not.
Andrea: The fact that they don't state which room the meeting is in, for me, is very manipulative. We've checked every public room in this school. On the agenda, it said that a vote may be taken on any agenda item.
I made childcare plans accordingly. Oh my God. And I left work to come here. I work till five.
Steve Ahlquist: Jenna, you also left work to come here. Yes.
Steve Ahlquist: Is there anything to add?
Andrea: I have to go to work tonight because I’m salary. I still have to get my work done now.
Steve Ahlquist: Well, they can't do it in a non-public meeting. And I'm going to be putting in a complaint Attorney General because of this. This is not proper at all.
Jenna: I was actually excited to speak. But no one from the committee is answering my calls. Now I have to figure out how to get out of here and pick up my kids.
Another issue with the meeting is that the posted agenda items don't fully describe the policies that the sub-committee may or may not be voting on. Nowhere on the document does it mention the Transgender, Gender Non-Conforming, and Transitioning Students policy. What we see instead are random numbers and vague descriptors such as "Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation." Note that technically, identifying as transgender does not describe a person's sexual orientation.
Just as I was preparing to publish I made contact with School Committee member Carolyn Dias. Dias got Scituate School Superintendent Laurie Andries on the line to speak with me about the meeting, which turned out to have taken place.
Steve Ahlquist: I was at the Scituate High School yesterday looking for this meeting. Two parents and I could not find it. It wasn't in the library, it wasn't in the cafeteria, and it wasn't in the auditorium, and they didn't know where else to look. We looked for a cancellation of the meeting. There wasn't one online. We also tried calling people, but they were not able to get through to anyone.
Laurie Andries: It wasn't canceled. It was held in the curriculum director's office.
Steve Ahlquist: Do you realize that's a violation of the Open Meetings Act? To not list that on the agenda?
Laurie Andries: Our attorney has advised us in the past that we have to list the building that it's in, but not particularly the room.
Steve Ahlquist: Well, there was no notification anywhere. We wandered around that entire complex, rather confusingly, trying to find it. I mean, do you think that's the best possible system to just list a giant complex and not put down what room it's in? People who worked in the school were not aware it was happening.
Carolyn Dias: Was there any specific agenda items or policy that the parents were interested in? Do you know?
Steve Ahlquist: There were nine things on the agenda and what they and I were there for was the Transgender, Gender Non-Conforming, and Transitioning Students policy, which is another problem. That policy wasn't properly noticed in the agenda because there's nothing in the agenda that says transgender, gender non-conforming, or transitioning. There's stuff in there about a bullying policy, about not discriminating on the basis of sexual identity, and stuff like that. But there wasn't anything in that listed the specific policies that were under review.
Carolyn Dias: Laurie, please have the agenda reposted appropriately, and have it rescheduled.
Laurie Andries: I will.
Carolyn Dias: Moving forward, please make sure it's actually in the media room or our library where we always have our meetings. And please make sure that you're there for any non-academic policies, okay?
Steve Ahlquist: I would just like to say one more thing before you go. The two parents who were there made extraordinary efforts to be present. They left work early and they found childcare for their kids, and then they both left, unable to attend the meeting.
I also have a question about the meeting. How did it go? Did the sub-committee approve the policies, not approve the policies? What was the outcome of this meeting?
Laurie Andries: I certainly can get back to you about that. I have not seen the minutes from that meeting as of yet. But if we have to repost the meeting and have the meeting again, I think something else could happen, right? The votes will be void and we'll give those parents an opportunity to get out there.
Carolyn Dias: When you repost it, just send out a notification to all parents and apologize that there was some misunderstanding about the location and that the meeting will be taking place again. We'll just send out a blanket apology.
A copy of this post will be sent to the Rhode Island Attorney General as a violation of Rhode Island's Open Meetings Act.
Scituate School Committee members are Carolyn Dias, Erika McCormick, Colleen Rose, Coleen Pendergast, and Keven Pendergast.
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