The charter school’s executive director has threatened legal action against a group of parents if its does not retract or provide documentation of several allegations it made against him in a petition filed more than two weeks ago with the school’s Board of Trustees.
The petition, which bore 29 signatures of school parents, unnamed teachers and others, called for a formal, independent review of the Gloucester Community Arts Charter Schools’ director, Tony Blackman. A document attached to it accused Blackman of two counts of public humiliation of a student, child endangerment, abuse of students and staff, labor violations and misuse of federal funds.
A July 19 letter sent to the group of parents by Cambridge attorney Henry Clark on Blackman’s behalf and obtained Thursday by the Times demands that those parents who signed the petition either submit documentation backing up their allegations or send written retractions to his office by this past Wednesday, July 25. Clark did not return a call seeking comment on this story. The letter states the parents’ claims, if not true, are defamatory statements.
“Mr. Blackman is reviewing all of his legal options against you including, but not limited to, for defamation, tortious interference with his contract, tortious interference with advantageous relationships, and intentional infliction of emotional distress,” Clark’s letter states.
“Please also be advised,” the letter states, “that my client reserves the right to take whatever action is necessary to preserve his reputation and position, and to exercise whatever other rights he may possess to the fullest extent of the law.”
Blackman acknowledged yesterday he’s pursuing a retraction of a list of allegations attached to the petition, and that his legal counsel had sent a letter to parents seeking documentation to support the petition’s claims. He did not say that he had threatened legal action.
“It’s obviously an important matter for the school to get settled,” Blackman said, “as well as for me professionally and personally to get settled.”
The parents’ and teachers’ petition was filed as the charter’s board continued to negotiate a new contract for Blackman, whose initial two-year deal expired June 30. It also came in the aftermath of a stormy departure by GCACs’ former Head of School Jody Ziebarth, and in the wake of disciplinary actions during a June school outing at the YMCA’s Camp Spindrift that reportedly prompted the parents’ claims of child endangerment and the humiliation of students.
The charter school’s Board of Trustees meets for another round of negotiations on Blackman’s contract this Saturday. Should they reach an agreement, according to the meeting agenda, the board will vote to renew his contract.
Saturday’s meeting of the charter school’s Board of Trustees convenes at 7:30 a.m. The board will wrap up Blackman’s contract negotiations in executive session and reconvene for a final vote on his contract if an agreement is reached. The board will also take up several documents it has to submit to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education by the end of the month.
Chairman James Caviston says it won’t discuss the parent petition Saturday morning.
“We really need to focus on substantive issues in front of us regarding the DESE and the executive session,” Caviston said. He added that the board will take up the petition at a later meeting when it isn’t working against DESE deadlines.
While the school continues to investigate the petition, Caviston said it hasn’t received any documentation regarding a list of allegations laid against Blackman after asking for them 10 days ago.
Blackman and Caviston had said after a private meeting with parents two weeks ago that some parents who signed the petition didn’t know the second document with the specific allegations was attached to it. They gave parents until the following Monday to provide documents backing up those claims.
As the board meets this weekend, Blackman says also he’s working to fill nine openings at the school. The latest was created this week, when the school’s nurse, Sue Symonds, left the charter for a higher paying nursing job in Lynn, Blackman said.
Symonds left a week after filing a report on the reported disciplinary incident at Camp Spindrift that is a focal point of the child humiliation and endangerment allegations against Blackman. Her report to Blackman and the trustees stated that the students weren’t humiliated, endangered or distressed while they sat out during the morning’s activities. She said she kept an eye on them and they rejoined the rest of the charter school students at lunch time.
Symonds’ exit comes less than a month after Special Education Director Carol Kennedy Hurley also left the school. Her departure leaves the school with nine open positions, Blackman said, which are for a school councilor, school psychologist, a teacher for grades four and five, two kindergarten and first-grade teachers, a teacher for second and third grades, an instructional coach and a director of education, essentially a curriculum director in what used to be the head of school, or principal’s post.
“By the end of the week we’ll have filled a majority of them,” Blackman said Thursday.
teven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.