The Sheepscot Valley Regional School Unit Board of Directors did not allow comments about bullying and other issues at Whitefield Elementary School during its meeting Thursday, Jan. 11, despite the presence of parents, teachers, and community members hoping to revisit the issues.
There was standing room only for the meeting at Chelsea Elementary School. The meeting was the board’s first since a contentious Dec. 14 meeting during which, for two hours or so, people shared stories of assault and bullying at Whitefield Elementary.
The stories included those of a second-grader coerced by two other students on the school bus to play “the private game,” in which they displayed and touched each other’s private parts; and of a student threatening to shoot and kill another student.
Prior to the start of Thursday’s meeting, the board distributed two double-sided sheets outlining rules for speakers as well as avenues for public concerns and complaints. The meeting’s agenda included a note restricting comments to items listed on the agenda.
A number of those present said they were miffed by this instruction, by the absence from the agenda of the concerns raised at the prior meeting, and by the lack of minutes from the last meeting.
Superintendent Howard Tuttle said the minutes were incomplete due to the departure of his assistant over the holidays, and he himself had just completed them that morning. He told parents the minutes would soon be available online.
The board tabled acceptance of the minutes until its next meeting.
Still, Whitefield resident and former board member Joan Morin spoke to the issue, offering her experience in conflict management to the board. “We need to talk openly and honestly and not blame,” she said.
Morin asked everyone willing to help solve the issue to stand up, and the entire audience stood up.
Board Chair Jerry Nault told the room a committee would be formed shortly. He stopped the comments after Morin spoke and two other audience members made veiled comments regarding the Whitefield issues.
After the closing of comments, Whitefield resident and parent Roger Drolet, who pulled his son from the school a number of years ago, stood and asked everyone present who wanted to speak, but was unable to, to stand. About a half-dozen people stood.
Drolet later told The Lincoln County News that he found the restrictions, along with the “vanishing” of the meeting minutes and the presence of armed security, to be “absurd.”
The district asked a Kennebec County sheriff’s deputy to be present at the meeting, according to Tuttle.
Clint Towle, whose daughter attends private school, and other parents said they found the absence of the subject from the agenda alarming, and said they had been promised the issue would be discussed during the meeting.
Following Drolet’s comments, board member Keith Marple, of Whitefield, took time to speak to the issue and thank those present for coming to discuss the issue.
“I think if we listen to these voices with open hearts it will lead us to the answers,” he said. He said that while the school is “in a moment of darkness,” he “sees a good day on the horizon” when the safety of children will not be an issue and the school will again be “the hub of the community.”
After a lengthy presentation on a hydroponics program at Whitefield Elementary, Marple again spoke, telling the room that he found the placement of the presentation “disrespectful” to the situation at hand, as “parents are actively pulling their children out of (Whitefield Elementary).”
Marple floated the idea of Whitefield’s withdrawal from the district during the Dec. 14 meeting.
After the hydroponics presentation and Marple’s comments, the board entered a lengthy, scheduled executive session to consult with an attorney for an undisclosed reason.