GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

March 9, 2013

Why Did My Newspaper Do That? The push for answers at West Parish

Why Did My Newspaper Do That?
Ray Lamont

---- — It’s always difficult to pursue stories that involve wrongdoing on the part of juveniles, identified in Massachusetts as youths age 17 or younger.

Courts generally provide young people with protection from public information statutes, essentially meaning that their names are redacted from police reports and that their court reports are not released to the public. And that’s understandable, given that mistakes made by kids can sometimes tarnish their records for life — especially in today’s age of Google, Facebook and other social media.

But many such cases warrant news coverage — whether a loss of perhaps a start player or several players from a high school sports team after a teen drinking incident costs a team a few games or even a championship, or perhaps a more serious case in which an underage driver is involved in a serious car crash that threatens or even takes the life of someone else. And then there are the cases that seem to almost chart new reporting ground — like the current Gloucester Police and district attorney’s probe into an incident last week that led to the abrupt shutdown of the after-school program at West Parish School.

By virtually all counts, this isn’t merely a case involving juveniles – it’s one revolving exclusively around the apparent actions of elementary school students, likely meaning kids ages 10, 11 and/or 12.

To date, of course, we still don’t know what led to the investigation, which, according to both Superintendent Richard Safier and Police Chief Leonard Campanello, has largely focused on the program’s lack of supervision. That point has already been driven home by Safier, who announced that the Cape Ann YMCA will be taking over the program and that YMCA staffers, not the program’s previous three supervisors and a substitute, will be running the show.

Campanello reiterated Friday that the investigation remains ongoing, and that no new information is yet available. That’s fine. And clearly, judging from the lack of any response from people like the school’s principal — and the parents’ primary representative, the president of the school’s PTO — many don’t want anyone to ever know what touched off all of this. Indeed, some have asked openly why we can’t simply accept that something sparked a look into the program’s level of supervision, that the issue is being properly addressed, and that everyone should just move on.

But we’re not going to do that. We’re going to keep looking for answers into the West Parish after-school incident, and that may make some of you legitimately ask why.

Why indeed, would your community’s newspaper do that? Quite frankly, it’s our job and our duty. Even in obviously delicate cases such as this, our goal is to let you know what has touched off these actions and decisions — which, lest we forget, surfaced through a Friday night meeting involving city and school officials, right up to and including Mayor Carolyn Kirk.

West Parish parents who had children in that program deserve to know exactly what occurred to prompt city officials, acting in concert with the Essex County District Attorney’s office and the state’s Department of Children and Families, to respond with such an emergency action that many parents were left scrambling for day-care services at the drop of a hat. Residents deserve to know whether the school district has ousted, suspended or transferred the school employees who had been working with the program in the past. And taxpayers footing the bill should know any cost differences between covering their salaries and the cost of the new YMCA-run program.

Do we want to print names of whatever kids may have been involved in this fiasco? Of course not; it’s not about who, it’s about what was involved. And, no, we’re not looking to print rumors — we have, in fact, heard a number of rumors about what occurred, and have obviously not reported them because we have not come close to verifying them.

But continuing to press for answers in this case isn’t about being nosy, it’s about making sure officials are accountable to parents, students, city taxpayers — and you. As always, let me know what you think.

Questions? Comments? Is there a topic you’d like to see addressed in a future column. Contact Times Editor Ray Lamont at 978-283-7000, x3432, or at rlamont@gloucestertimes.com.