Neary controversy update: Parents expected to present petition and make demands at this week’s School Committee meetings

Above: An online petition on behalf of a group of parents makes allegations of school administration misconduct and demands an independent investigation and other actions. (image cropped from petition)

Since news about “inappropriate” incidents including an alleged “mock slave auction” in a Southborough 5th grade classroom made national news, the controversy has apparently continued to grow.

A petition is circulating online to “Demand Transparency, Accountability & Equity in NSBORO Schools”. It includes calling for the dismissal of the Neary School’s Principal and suspension of the NSBORO Superintendent “while an independent investigation is undertaken.” 

Expect that to be among the topics raised by parents in public comment at two meetings this week.

The petition’s demands also include an investigation into broader “civil rights” concerns and follow through on actions outlined in the District Equity Audit published two years ago.

The petition circulated on social media is described as from “a group of parents”. (Because it is a Google Docs form, it doesn’t show the number of community members who have signed on to support it so far.) In an email I received today, I was informed that multiple families of students in the classroom collaborated on and edited the document before it was publicly promoted.

In the it, details are alleged that hadn’t been included in initial school announcements and news stories. Those include claims about leaderships mishandling of issues and inequitable treatment of students with disabilities on IEPs (Individualized Education Program plans). (Scroll down for the petition excerpts with more details.)

This afternoon’s NSboro News weekly email from Superintendent Gregory Martineau seems to attempt to address some of the petitioner’s demands, but not most. It overlaps steps promised in the May 30th announcement with more details and additional pledges. (Scroll down for those details.)

Meetings — Agenda Items & Comment Opportunities

Last Tuesday, the Southborough School Committee held special “office hours” meetings, which allowed members of the public to speak directly to members. Tonight, the School Committee will hold its first regular meeting since Neary made headlines. 

While the agenda seems typical, the revised location posted this morning is definitely not. The move from Trottier Middle School’s library to its auditorium indicates the committee is preparing for a potentially big turnout.

The controversy isn’t specifically listed on the agenda. But during the meeting, the committee will discuss “Key Learnings from Office Hours Discussion” (agenda item 7.b.).

Unlike many Town committees, the School Committee hasn’t typically allowed back and forth with the public over its agenda items. So there may not be direct answers from the committee during opening public comment. But the meeting will begin with a public comment period (following a “Retiree Recognition”). And those comments could inform what members have to say when they get to item 7b. The meeting will also include a second opportunity for  Public Comment at the end.

That meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, June 12th at 6:30 pm.

The following night, there will be a Combined School Committees meeting which includes all of the districts that Superintendent Gregory Martineau works for — the school committees for Southborough PreK-8, Northborough PreK-8, and Algonquin Regional High School (plus the Superintendency Union).

During that meeting the committees will discuss the Superintendent’s “Summative Evaluation” for the past school year. That will be followed by a closed Executive Session to negotiate the contract for next year. The committee is schedule to return to open session to vote on approving the contract. 

That meeting will again be bookended by Public Comment periods. The meeting is scheduled for Thursday, June 13th, at 6:30 pm in the Algonquin library.

Public Petition

The petition includes the following allegations:

a credible accusation of a racist action in a classroom was swept under the rug. . .

Two serious accusations of racially charged actions by a teacher. Troubling questions about the lack of action by a senior administrator. And yet, the superintendent did not begin an immediate investigation. Instead, under Superintendent Martineau’s leadership, the teacher and principal engaged in a series of back-to-back video calls with classroom parents. In these calls, parents were misled about the events that occurred in the classroom and an educator’s public humiliation replaced due process. Under Superintendent Martineau’s leadership, the teacher then returned to the classroom where she retaliated against the student who originally reported the incidents while the principal stood in the room and did nothing. . .

While on administrative leave, the principal continued to interact with district families on remote meetings. In one case, unexpectedly joining an IEP Team meeting for a child in the impacted classroom. Ultimately, the principal was allowed to return to the building while under active investigation. She was still under investigation when she participated a meeting with Superintendent Martineau and class families to discuss the investigation findings. These actions raise troubling questions about the integrity of the investigation and the seriousness with which the district has taken any of these concerns.

Additionally, in a room where allegations of racially charged actions were diminished and ignored, the district had also consolidated a significant number of students with disabilities that impact their learning, ie. children on IEPs. Per special education law, “students with disabilities and students without disabilities must be placed in the same setting, to the maximum extent appropriate.” In other words, we do not take lightly the segregation and removal of disabled students in our schools.

The mere existence of this classroom is problematic. And the district has further proved unwilling to answer basic questions about the comparative make-up of other fifth grade classrooms, whether there are additional high needs cohorts in the classroom, how services were provided in a room with such a high level of need or if the depth and breadth of instruction in this classroom was equal to that of the rest of fifth grade. Superintendent Martineau himself has misled parents on the number of IEP students in the classroom, telling a parent behind closed doors that it was no more than four or five when, in fact, the classroom contains seven. . .

After the teacher was removed, the district first tried to pass off a long-term sub as her replacement instead of a state-licensed educator. The sub was not given access to any of the children’s IEPs. . .

Parents have had to learn about things that happened to their children through a district wide email blasted out by the school superintendent. This has been a profound failure by supposed experts to understand and respond to the needs of children.

The failures outlined here are many and complex. . .

And at the center of all this is an administration that speaks nicely of its commitment to educational equity while simultaneously refusing to lead with anything more than words. It is in this inaction that the events of this fifth-grade classroom were allowed to fester. It is in this inaction that these children’s civil rights will continue to go unmet.

To read the full petition (or sign it), click here.

District Announcement

In today’s newsletter, Martineau wrote:

I also want to share plans for the 2024-2025 school year. The District’s theme for next year is Belonging, which will center on three questions: 1) What does it mean to belong to a community? 2) How do I belong? and 3) How can I help others belong? This work will build upon our core values of respect, empathy, equity, inclusivity, perseverance, and integrity. More information about the theme will be shared with the community in August. The District is committed to continuous improvement, equity of opportunity, and empowering learners. As part of this commitment, parents and guardians can expect to see several actions.

The letter promises a “comprehensive action plan” will be shared at the start of the next school year. In the meantime, he shared a “few action steps that will be included:

Partner with MassInsight to evaluate the District’s equity audit completed in 2022. This evaluation will help us identify areas for improvement and celebrate successes. The review will include input from students, faculty, and caregivers, ensuring a comprehensive and inclusive re-assessment. I will share the findings of the audit and an updated action plan with the community in the fall.

Develop a 2024-2025 professional development plan. This plan will focus on culturally competent pedagogy, a key aspect of our Belonging theme, to accelerate professional learning for all faculty and staff.

Strengthen internal reporting and investigatory procedures by conducting formal training for all school and District leaders. This training will equip our leaders with the necessary skills and knowledge to ensure a safe and inclusive learning environment. We are committed to transparency and accountability; this training is a crucial step in that direction.

Hire a Coordinator of Community Engagement and Belonging. This role will be instrumental in expanding community engagement, bringing coherence to the District’s equity work, and leading our strategic objective of equity of opportunity for ALL students.

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