, Gloucester, MA

July 17, 2013

Editorial: Regional school heads must address worker's bullying charges

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — The Manchester Essex Regional School District, like other school systems across Cape Ann and across the state, have put a lot of time and energy in recent years into developing policies regarding how to recognize and respond to any alleged bullying among students, whether in school or even at home, when students can text, “tweet,” or exchange some of their harshest words on line.

And those policies include mandates for teachers and other school personnel to report such cases when they do arise – and they do, in virtually all of our schools.

But Manchester Essex school officials now owe it to their own school community and, really, to all residents of both towns that they will also respond appropriately when one staffer raises what amounts to bullying allegations on the part of her own departmental supervisor. And while personnel and privacy regulations no doubt apply, as Superintendent of Schools Pamela Beaudoin noted last week, officials should at least be able to indicate whether they have talked to any or all of those involved, and note at least some conclusion to any investigation by the start of the new school year.

The allegations surfaced last week in a note written by high school food services employee Maureen MacLeod, who — in her letter addressed to the School Committee in care of Beaudoin and to her Manchester selectmen in care of Town Administrator Gregory Federspiel — alleges that food services director Sheila Parisien has been “creating an unbearably verbally abusive environment.”

While not outlining any specific cases, MacLeod said that she had been “verbally abused” and suggested that a number of other department employees have left because of similar abuse in recent years.

It’s important to note, of course, that these are merely allegations at this point. But it’s also important to note that school officials are bound by their own policies as to how to respond — including a mandate for the principal to file a written report with the human rights officer, and, if the charges are confirmed, actions that could include “termination or discharge” of the charged employee. The choices do not include merely the committee “accepting” or setting aside MacLeod’s complaint.

Simply put, the school district should question all of those who may have ties to these alleged actions, including any past employees who have left the department. And in the end, school officials should confirm when the investigation is completed and whether findings have brought any changes.

Bullying regulations, like other policies, are not meant to target students alone.