We can do better for our community - A Response to the Letter in the Melrose Weekly News
In a recent letter to the Melrose Weekly News, a group of Melrose residents, including a former board member of the Melrose Board of Registrars of Voters, tried to shame the Transparency Initiative for speaking truth to power.
The letter accused the Transparency Initiative of disrespecting our elected officials, breaching student privacy to retain a school moniker, and using children as pawns.
Do not be fooled. This letter has nothing to do with outrage over the Transparency Initiative's actions. It's simply an attempt by a group of people, blinded by their support of a name change, to misdirect blame and obfuscate the record.
Do not be distracted from the facts.
The Melrose Transparency Initiative was organized as a direct response to the complete and utter lack of transparency and communication by the school committee, school administration, and city of Melrose.
Shortly following Principal Jason Merrill's email to the community where he announced his personal decision to retire the Red Raider nickname, a group of Melrose residents sent a letter to the City of Melrose and the Melrose School Committee. The letter detailed legitimate concerns over Principal Merrill's lack of authority in making such a policy decision and requested the school committee, as policymakers, take up the matter if it so wished. Given Principal Merrill's lack of authority to create such policy, the letter demanded that Principal Merrill cease all efforts to retire and replace the name until the school committee determined - in an open, public, and transparent process - whether they felt the nickname should be replaced.
For months, the school committee refused to acknowledge and entirely ignored the questions and concerns sent to them from members of their own community. Instead of assuming their position as policy makers, they continued to ignore the community, while Principal Merrill formed a closed, partisan steering committee with the sole purpose of identifying a replacement nickname.
The Transparency Initiative was formed and, with no other recourse, was forced to use the Freedom of Information Act to get answers to questions and concerns that, in transparent governments, are given freely. Not surprisingly, the city responded within 7 minutes. The FOIA requests sent to the city sought the following documents:
Emails, memoranda, meeting minutes, and notes related to Principal Jason Merrill's actions in connection with eliminating or changing the "Red Raider" nickname
All information and analysis of the data collected during the Melrose Nickname & Mascot Survey
All emails, text messages, or social media communications between the school administration, superintendent, school committee, and city council related to the survey
The names and roles of members of the steering committee
Whether the school committee had reviewed the make-up of the steering committee and identified any potential conflicts of interest
The documents provided in response to these FOIA requests were a treasure trove of evidence proving the ineptitude of the city, the administration’s dishonesty about the origin of Principal Merrill’s decision, the covert agenda of the superintendent and a stunning conflict of interest in Chair of the School Committee, Jen McAndrew.
Documents provided by the city in their FOIA response show:
The city's failure to redact the names of multiple students
There was an “agenda” within the school to retire the red raider nickname beginning at least 4 months prior to Principal Merrill’s "personal decision" email.
Superintendent Kukenberger and Chair McAndrew were working on the agenda to retire the nickname months prior to Principal Merrill’s "personal decision" email.
Chair McAndrew’s family was the origin of the “campaign” to retire the nickname
Chair McAndrew’s conflict of interest prevented her from giving fair consideration to any decision regarding the name and any recommendation of the steering committee
Superintendent Kukenberger was working with a student to retire the red raider name "beyond the [the student's] course requirements."
Superintendent Kukenberger promoted another agenda to this student, specifically regarding the superintendent’s concern that Melrose schools are named "after white, male presidents.”
This evidence, and the failure of the school committee to act on it, compromises the integrity of the entire school committee as leaders in our community. It also compromises the entire process of retiring and replacing the red raider name. In the community's interest, the Transparency Initiative approached the school committee several times and requested that Chair McAndrew recuse herself from the process. She refused.
It's the responsibility of Melrose residents to ensure our elected officials are being open, transparent, and honest. Outrageously, the authors of the letter to the Weekly News suggest that the Transparency Initiative should have withheld this information because a student – a family member of the school committee - was caught up in the dishonesty.
They're hoping you'll join them in their misdirected outrage and give the school committee and administration a pass on this type of behavior. Why? Because they don’t really care that their elected officials deceived them on this issue, they simply "believe the decision to formally remove the Red Raiders was the right thing to do."
We won’t give the school committee and superintendent a pass, and neither should you.