By Marjorie Nesin
---- — The school committee has unanimously voted to formally scold a committee member who had offended a parent by responding to her inquiry about a new program with a parody of the mother’s email.
Two-term committee member Roger Garberg had sent the “satirical” email response, he said by accident, at the start of last week. The committee discussed the censure in an executive session Wednesday night, before voting publicly and unanimously to condemn Garberg’s actions, then stated their disapproval on record.
“This public censure is meant to rebuke Mr. Garberg,” the censure read. “The School Committee accepts Mr. Garberg’s apology, however, the committee hereby reasserts its commitment as public officials to uphold respectful deliberation and communication in all aspects of its work and regrets that Roger Garberg’s action led to public doubt about that commitment.”
Garberg, who abstained from voting, apologized publicly to the parents he offended with his letter, to the School Committee and to the public at the start of Thursday night’s meeting.
“Essentially what I said was to apologize again to Lisa Fornero for a message that was never intended for her,” Garberg said Thursday. “I also apologized to the full School Committee because I recognized that the whole affair was kind of a distraction for them, and certainly didn’t recognize the commitment we had for engaging the public.”
Garberg said he thought his apology should have sufficed, and that the committee’s acceptance of his apology should have indicated no need for a censure.
“I was disappointed in the censure vote. The committee acknowledged a mistake had been made and the apology was given,” Garberg said. “(But) I know some members felt that they would be viewed as having no interest in public input if they didn’t vote to censure me.”
School committee member Melissa Teixeira pointed out that the School Committee took the only action it could by turning to censure. The decision to censure Garberg, she said, demonstrates to the community that the committee does not consider his specific email message as appropriate behavior.
“Community engagement is the most effective component of public service,” Teixeira said. “The censure of Roger Garberg is appropriate in order to restore public confidence in constructive dialogue to all opinions involving our children and their educational needs.”
School Committee Chairman Jonathan Pope urged parents not to associate this one instance with the rest of the committee’s work.
“The one thing that people have to remember is this whole action was not part of any kind of official thing,” Pope said, “It wasn’t in a meeting, it wasn’t part of any school committee action. It was done independently and without any association with any other members.”
But, he added, “It’s done now as far as I’m concerned. It’s in the past.”
Mayor Carolyn Kirk, who also sits as a voting member of the School Committee, shared Pope’s commitment to moving forward.
“We’re ready to put this behind us,” Kirk said Thursday.
Fornero, the parent who received Garberg’s parody reply to her email that mimicked her comments on an incoming breakfast program at Beeman and Veterans elementary schools. Fornero, a Gloucester resident and mother as well as a teacher in another school district, said Thursday that the censure made her feel “very comfortable” with addressing the committee again with concerns in the future.
“I feel like the six School Committee members who voted “yes” definitely sent the message to the parents of Gloucester that trying to silence parents will not be tolerated by the School Committee,” Fornero said.
Garberg is the only School Committee member who has yet to take out election papers for next year. With a mid-August deadline looming, Garberg said he is still considering the decision.
While the rest of the current committee members have taken out their papers, no new candidates have entered the race.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.