April 6, 2022 | By Lisa Scagliotti
Despite an investigation by at least one HUUSD school board member into an assault on a student at Harwood Union High School in February, the superintendent maintains that it is inappropriate for the school board to discuss the matter.
News of the February assault had been circulating in the community for several weeks before the March 23 school board meeting where the parent of a student who was assaulted in a bathroom on February 1 approached the advice. The Valley Reporter published an article online and in print on the March 11 incident.
Former Harwood science teacher and coach John Kerrigan has posted on social media and written opinion pieces printed in the Valley Reporter and published in the Waterbury Roundabout Opinion section on the incident as well.
The March 1 Town Meeting Day election added several new principals to the school board, which met briefly on March 9 to organize and select a new president and vice president for the next year.
Following that meeting, one of the new board members, Ashley Woods of Warren, emailed the board group and Superintendent Brigid Nease with a question on March 11.
“As a new member of the board, I’m not entirely sure of the procedure here, but can we get an update on how the situation with the ‘toilet attack’ has been handled so far?
Would appreciate hearing from Brigid on this,” she wrote.
Waterbury Roundabout recently obtained Woods’ post in a public information request. The newspaper requested and received email messages from the account belonging to school board member Jacqueline Kelleher who resigned from the board in March.
The school district’s response to those requests included emails that circulated among all board members while Kelleher’s account was active, including several regarding the student assault case.
Nease replied to Woods, copying the address of the group that reaches all council members. She included the written response the principals sent to the Valley Reporter about it. The newspaper print this answer in its entirety.
Nease added an additional explanation as to why the board would not receive any information on this.
“Student discipline is one of the most regulated and confidential areas of school law. The council is really not allowed to know more informally about the issue than the general public,” she wrote. “The administration has imposed the appropriate discipline, conducted the required investigations and developed all justified student plans. The board has a statutory judicial role and any premature knowledge of serious staff and student issues outside of the formal policy and steps outlined in Title 16 would put the district at risk. The administration by law is not free to simply inform the board of such situations nor is it the responsibility of the board to review each case as members of the board.
Woods responded to Nease and the council’s group contact address. She thanked Nease for his quick response, but added three specific questions.
“Our community holds the school board accountable for how serious situations are handled at school. Many community members and this mom clearly feel that not enough has been done. How does a school board member know how to answer questions without knowing what has been done? she asked, acknowledging that privacy around identities would be needed. “It looks like the situation could be discussed without naming names?”
She also asked for clarification on what Nease meant by “putting the district at risk” in her initial response. “Is the concern a lawsuit from a parent involved in this situation?”
Her third question: “This is a serious, frightening situation for the community, especially for those who send their children to Harwood every day. I have had children in Harwood since 2006 and this event is alarming,” Woods wrote. “I would like to know the section of Title 16 that you are talking about where the law states that the board cannot request an update from the principals and the superintendent about a violent incident involving students, occurring on a campus of our district. How can it be better that we all heard hearsay but didn’t hear the real facts from the administration? »
In the exchange’s final message, Nease said she wouldn’t take additional questions from Woods, pointing out that doing so would risk violating the state’s open meeting law. (State law prohibits a quorum of an elected council from conducting business outside of a publicly notified meeting, including email discussions.)
Nease said she has an upcoming meeting scheduled with new board chair Rodgers and vice chair Kelley Hackett. “I will discuss the matter with them and offer some advice,” she said. “I would say student discipline issues are an area where the board needs to get board training both [the Vermont School Boards Association] and your school district attorney. It’s complicated, highly confidential and regulated based on a number of laws and policies.
Contacted on Wednesday, Woods said the email exchange was over and she had no further discussion on the matter with administrators.