School Committee Members Decry Culture of Intimidation
At their meeting on Tuesday evening, November 1, 2022, the Marblehead School Committee addressed several issues surrounding the recent exit of member Emily Barron, who sent her letter of resignation to the Marblehead Town Clerk on October 27. Her term had been slated to end in June 2023.
In opening statements, School Committee member Sarah Gold commended Barron, saying she had been “an asset to the School Committee and always acted in highly gracious ways…and truly cares about students in this district.”
Following Barron’s resignation, the School Committee was left with an open seat. Chair Sarah Fox explained that she had reviewed the procedure with legal counsel and with the Massachusetts Association of School Committee’s representative. The protocol in this situation is for the remaining four members of the Committee to vote on whether they wish to take action to fill the empty seat or leave it open until the next election. To fill the seat, the School Committee would coordinate with the Select Board to solicit letters of interest from the community, review the submissions, and hold a joint public meeting to interview the candidates. The combined group would then take a public vote to appoint a new School Committee member to hold the seat until the next election, which in this case would be June 2023.
Fox recommended that because the School Committee has a quorum with four sitting members, the seat could remain open until June, at which time the voters of Marblehead would be able to make the decision. Member Allison Taylor agreed.
Gold expressed her interest in filling the seat immediately. “We have a lot going on and I think we clearly have some differing perspectives on this committee,” she said. “I am worried that we could see too many pieces of the puzzle result in 2 to 2 votes.”
Member Meagan Taylor supported Gold’s perspective, noting that Barron’s departure leaves a “big gap,” as she served on various subcommittees and in other roles and was the School Committee Vice Chair as well.
The final vote was 2 to 2, and the motion to appoint a member jointly with the Select Board did not pass. The seat will remain open until June’s election.
Gold raised the issue of a replacement for the Vice Chair position and made a motion for Meagan Taylor to serve in the role Barron had previously filled. Fox responded that there is no requirement to have a Vice Chair and that, if necessary, the Secretary, in this case Taylor, can take over as Chair. The vote was again 2 to 2, with Fox and Allison Taylor voting to leave the Vice Chair position unfilled.
Finally, Meagan Taylor introduced a discussion about what she perceived to be a growing “attack culture” that has “become a pattern of behavior over time.” Noting that there are always going to be differences of opinion, she said that this should not involve “a public attack on someone’s character, their reputation, profession, their livelihood.” Taylor continued by proposing a motion to “condemn the current culture of intimidation and attack which has culminated in the resignation of a vital member of this committee and to recommit to working in a positive and productive manner so we can effectively lead this district.”
Fox agreed, noting that she was “someone whose children have suffered from this for quite some time now to the point where they self-advocated with their educators.” Allison Taylor added that she also “couldn’t agree more.” Gold noted that “when someone has not done something willfully wrong, there should be room for consideration.” She suggested that “some of the things we have seen over the past six months or so are concerning,” and, in fact, “we could broaden that out over the past two years.” The vote on Taylor’s motion passed 4-0.
Marblehead Beacon contacted the School Committee for further details and specifics on the culture of intimidation that they noted dates back years and against which they voted unanimously in the meeting. We will update this article as more information becomes available.
UPDATE 2:00PM: Member Sarah Fox spoke to Marblehead Beacon today. "It was nice to see a unanimous vote in which all parties agreed that respect is demanded for all of us," she said.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The author served on the Marblehead School Committee from 2016 to 2020 with several of the current members.