High tensions at school committee meeting despite calls for unity

Editor’s note: This story was updated on February 19 with a comment from Meg Tyler regarding criticism from the Hopkinton Teachers Association.

There were tense moments at Thursday night’s school committee meeting – even before the vote to lift the mask mandate from February 28.

As Nancy Cavanaugh presented her report as president, she mentioned that the number of emails received increased after Governor Charlie Baker announced that the statewide mandatory mask policy would be canceled on 28 February. She noted that there was “a clear majority” calling for the mask mandate to be ended in town.

Member Meg Tyler asked to comment on the number of public comment emails, saying a petition regarding the choice to recommend that only state and federal holidays be included in the school calendar was omitted. She said there were 25 emails in support of this as well as 25 signatures on the petition. The schedule was voted on at the last regular school committee meeting. Eleven emails were in favor of including other cultural holidays.

“My math isn’t perfect,” Tyler said, “but I felt like it was misnumbered at the last meeting.”

“I would counter that by saying I had no intention of being misleading,” Cavanaugh replied.

“Selective,” Tyler interjected. “You organized what you read.”

Cavanaugh recalled 30 public comments submitted and that she drew a cross-section of equal amounts of pro and con opinion on the schedule as well as the mask policy.

“Well, you read aloud something we didn’t even see defaming our character,” Tyler charged, referencing a scathing review from Markey and Tyler of the Hopkinton Teachers Association. “So it was very organized.”

Tyler and fellow school committee member Joe Markey were accused by a resident of violating the state’s open meeting law by hosting a Zoom meeting with a resident on Jan. 30 to rally opposition to the mask mandate and to the more inclusive school calendar (on Tuesday, they were exonerated). A letter from Becky Abate, president of the Hopkinton Teachers Association, regarding the accusation was read aloud by Cavanaugh at the meeting, although she omitted the names of the members in question.

Tyler added in a subsequent email to the Independent: “The HTA’s comment was based on speculation, not fact, and contained defamatory and potentially damaging statements about myself and another committee colleague. school. My professionalism and ethics are at the heart of everything I do as an educator myself and as a volunteer for this city; otherwise, the claims are both false and insulting.

Cavanaugh said there were a large number of emails scheduled due to the topics, so the letters were read aloud rather than asking residents to use a Zoom hand-up feature. Due to the volume, she said she and Vice President Amanda Fargiano took a representative sample.

“What we’ve done in the past is we’ve tried to select from the categories that people were choosing,” Cavanaugh said, with two on each side regarding mask policy and one each on the topic of timing. . “There were a few that were specific to the Open Meetings Act case. Our past practice has been to allow the HTA to comment without us commenting one way or the other.

Tyler countered that the practice of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees “is not to defame other committee members in order to create a question about the integrity of the committee.”

“I would just say that it is important for the public to know that when we make these public comments, the president is the one who organizes them,” she continued. “We don’t have the right to choose which ones are read.”

Cavanaugh clarified that the President and Vice President chose to proceed as they did because, with the Open Meetings Act, the five members could not have met to review the letters without posting that meeting at advance.

Markey requested that a next item on the agenda be “review of standards and protocols”, which he said he had requested before.

“I would love to review the standards and protocols,” Cavanaugh said, asking for a facilitator to lead it.

“No,” Markey said. “I don’t think, I think an apology would be in order. If I were president and a defamatory letter arrived, I would separate it from the political vitriol in which it is wrapped. that we would investigate [open meeting law], but that we will not tolerate attacks on members of this committee. I think any good leader would do that.

Returning to Tyler’s statement, Cavanaugh said she would review the number of emails to see if she made a mistake.

Shortly after, Hopkinton Middle School principal Alan Keller was about to give a presentation when Markey asked why members had to wear masks at the meeting. He asked if it was a mandate from the school board or from the board of health.

The president responded that since wearing a mask is still school policy, that’s why she wore one.

Markey also interviewed Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh as well as Health Board Chief and Health Department Director Shaun McAuliffe, who said they came highly recommended inside.

“I still don’t know what authority requires us to wear masks,” Markey said.

Markey and Tyler eventually took off their masks for the rest of the meeting.