We commend the leadership of the Sheepscot Valley Regional School Unit for its open and proactive response to community concerns about Whitefield Elementary School.
This response stands in stark contrast to the avoidance tactics and lack of transparency we often encounter when any public entity has to grapple with a serious internal problem.
Case in point: Regional School Unit 40’s response to the apparent absence of Medomak Valley High School Principal Andrew Cavanaugh. As rumors swirl in the community and local law enforcement agencies confirm investigations into multiple staff members at the school, including at least one investigation into inappropriate conduct between a staff member and a student (which, it’s important to say, did not turn up evidence of any criminal conduct), the district has yet to even confirm Cavanaugh’s absence.
We understand the need for a level of confidentiality, but how hard would it be for Superintendent Steve Nolan to say “Employee A is on leave with/without pay while the district conducts an internal investigation?” Or “These rumors are false. Employee A is on vacation with his family?”
Public entities often cite potential financial liability as the reason for their extreme secrecy in these situations. But it seems public officials who misbehave always leave with a fat severance package anyway, and the lawyers always take a hefty cut to draw up the documents. How much worse can it get?
The district owes transparency to the taxpayers who fund it, as well as to the students who attend its schools, students’ families, and district employees.
There should be a balance between the need for transparency and the need for due process for the employee, but in this case there is no balance.
The situation at the Sheepscot Valley Regional School Unit, meanwhile, stands as an example of integrity among public officials, especially among Whitefield’s representatives to the district’s board of directors.
See the commentary in this edition by Superintendent Howard Tuttle and board Chair F. Gerard Nault for the most recent update on their proactive work to address the issues at Whitefield Elementary with the involvement of the community.
The situation in Whitefield is different, as it does not involve allegations against a specific employee. But the concerns in Whitefield are of a very sensitive and serious nature, including an allegation of sexual abuse of a very young student by another student.
Nonetheless, rather than hide behind confidentiality and privacy, the district leadership is tackling the issues head-on and involving the community. We look forward to continuing to observe this process.
When you make a mistake, you acknowledge it, you accept the consequences, and you try to do better. When you fail to acknowledge a mistake or problem, the problem festers, only to reappear in a more insidious form later. Most of us learn this as toddlers.
In the case of RSU 40, the secrecy is fostering distrust in the community and could be leading people to conclude the problem is worse than it actually is.
We commend the Sheepscot Valley RSU for its response to the issues at Whitefield Elementary, and we urge RSU 40 to be more transparent as the situation at MVHS moves forward.