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Polimeno, Garrity Both Have Their Say About Public Records Request

Aug 24, 2015 09:27PM ● By Bill Gilman

Attorney Cheryl Garrity addresses the Tewksbury School Committee Wednesday night.

Eschewing, for a moment, the of advice of counsel not to comment publicly on ongoing legal matters, School Committee Chairperson Krissy Polimeno read a lengthy statement at the Aug. 19 meeting, addressing both an ongoing dispute between the school district and a group of unhappy Special Education Parents, as well as a related Public Records Request by local Attorney Cheryl Garrity.
Garrity, speaking during the public forum portion of the meeting, also had a chance to have her say, slamming the committee for what she called a "lack of professionalism" and accusing Superintendent Dr. John O'Connor of answering her PRR by flooding her with reams of irrelevant documents, while not providing certain relevant information.
Garrity's PRR was made in May, in the wake of an ongoing dispute between Special Education parents and school district over the release of confidential information of out-of-district placement students, the cooperativeness rankings of those students' parents and a letter from O'Connor connecting the postponement of plans for free all-day kindergarten with a significant increase in special education costs.
Garrity wanted emails and texts from each committee member and O'Connor, and meeting minutes from executive sessions, all relative to the data leak, the rankings, the resignation of committee member Lisa Puccia and the process of filling the vacancy caused by that resignation.
In her statement, Polimeno defended the responsiveness of the school committee and administrative to parental concerns. She also challenged the SpEd parents, a few of whom were in attendance at the meeting, to show a willingness to move beyond past problems and focus on working cooperatively with the district to help address the needs of SpEd students in the district.
"Saying that there is a trust issue is being evasive.  Inappropriate and derogatory remarks have been made by a number of individuals involved in these issues.  The time has come for all parties to put aside past differences and focus on future improvements regarding special education," said Polimeno. "The School Committee and the administrative staff have always reponded to parents in our district.  This issue is no different.  There are times we may disagree without becoming disagreeable.  We understand that emotions sometimes run high.  However, for the sake of our students, it is imperative that we keep the lines of communication open."

"I believe that individuals can be part of the problem or part of the solution. I would encourage you to be part of the solution," she added.

Polimeno, who read her statement at the end of the meeting, also outlined what she feels are several advancements in the district's Special Education programs, which are offered to 17.4 percent of the district's 3658 students. The list included restructuring the summer program, implementing district wide behavioral support services and improving the district's autism program.

Earlier in the meeting, Garrity walked to the microphone, carrying multiple bags of documents provided to her in response to her Public Records Request. Placing the mountainous piles of documents on a table, Garrity separated them into two piles, one significantly shorter than the other. She said the tall pile were copies of emails and phone records that were irrelevant to her requests.

"Which leads me to question the competency of those who (gathered documents) or the intent of the person who gathered them," said Garrity. "Many of these received showed an absolute lack of respect to parents. I received emails with information about student records.

"I think this entire process of asking for these records is a microcosm of the way this committee operates," she said, adding that she felt the committee and administration exhibited a lack of leadership, competency and professionalism.

Garrity also said she had not received any text records or emails from the school committee, as she had requested. Through their attorney, Michael Long, the committee has claimed that they arent required to turn over emails from their private email accounts or private text messages. 

This prompted Garrity to file a complaint with the Secretary of State's office. Both sides are still awaiting the ruling.

"The fact that you use your own email (for school district business) doesn't make your email not public records," said Garrity.

Polimeno didn't answer Garrity's accusations, choosing instead to thank Garrity for coming to the meeting and say the committee would consider her statement. Committee member Jamie Cutelis, on the other hand, did respond to the statement, saying that in his opinion the committee had shown excellent leadership, competency and professionalism.

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