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Alex Grant: Those Who Haven’t Spoken

To the members of the School Committee:

There are thousands of parents of school children in Longmeadow. With respect to the Superintendent’s contract, you have not heard from most of them. I cannot speak for them, any more than the people attending your meetings can speak for the parents and residents who have not voiced their opinions. I can say, however, that the politicization of this issue makes it awkward for those who have not chosen a side and do not wish to do so. It also makes people want to hold their tongues.

I can say this because for the past several months, I was one of the people who held my tongue. It was only recently, when I saw the reputations of good people being smeared, that I said anything. When this controversy burst into public view in February 2018 with at least one principal, teachers, and parents rallying support for the Superintendent, none of us in the wider community knew what the facts or even the issues were, beyond hearing rumors.

In February, I wondered about how a school system could function well when school department employees, whose performance evaluations are written by the Superintendent, work to secure the job of the person they report to. It is only human nature for that kind of dedication to inspire a sense of gratitude and would color the employee/employer relationship. If anyone felt differently about the Superintendent’s performance, would they dare say so? And what of the employees who just wanted to stay out of it, who just wanted to do their jobs, would their silence be conspicuous when others loudly express their support? Would you ever hear from the teacher who feels differently about the Superintendent, if the principal who writes the teacher’s annual review has expressed her loyalty to the Superintendent?

For parents with children in the schools, it is much the same. How many times have I thought over the last several months, “don’t make things harder for the kids.” Like every parent, nearly every other consideration pales in comparison to the well-being of my children. I understand that threats to bully the children of School Committee members have occurred, and I can think of no greater, or more effective, pressure tactic than that.

In May, when the School Committee made its public performance evaluation of the Superintendent, I still said nothing. After all, I was not present for the incidents described in the evaluation, and why incur the wrath of people who support the Superintendent? Moreover, as the coordinator of the youth track program, I was mindful of the fact that the school department controls our access to the only track in town, and I was still hopeful that our kids might yet be able to use the bathroom next to the track the school department had denied us access to. Why make it harder on the bladders of the youth athletes and the grandparents who watched our meets?

I have realized that my reticence—if only to speak up for the good character of the people I knew on the School Committee—was part of the problem. It is what allows a culture of character assassination to exist. Indeed, it is similar to one of the issues the School Committee has tackled: the problem of targeting kids and parents who raise questions about the culture of some of our sports teams.

Perhaps this letter and my recent column in the Longmeadow News will make it harder on my kids. I hope not. But worse still would be a lesson that it is better to withhold your own judgment, to hold your tongue, and to go along with the vocal crowd.

If I were serving on the School Committee, it would be hard for me to evaluate the outspoken support for the Superintendent, knowing the substantial disincentives for people to say anything else. It cannot be said that the people of Longmeadow have spoken on the issue of the Superintendent’s contract. The last time they spoke was at the ballot box, when they elected you to your positions.

– Alex J. Grant is a lawyer living in Longmeadow. His email address is alex.grant68@yahoo.com.