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Fed Office of Civil Rights Condemns Melrose Administration

Today Aaron Leibowitz of the Melrose Free Press reports on the OCR Letter of Findings, and it is a da#ning scenario, outlining the comprehensive failures of the Melrose administration (schools and city since the city solicitor was primary in advising the district, which means the mayor is implicated not only as a member of the School Committee but as the city solicitor's boss as well). If nothing else is a wake-up call to the community, this should be. It is a pretty serious condemnation of a community that has allowed this administration to run amok, as well.

OCR findings point to Melrose schools’ mishandling of racial incident

Melrose Veterans Memorial Middle School. File photo
By Aaron Leibowitz
Posted Jan 13, 2016 at 3:04 PM

A letter of findings issued by the federal Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights outlines alleged missteps by the Melrose Public Schools in addressing an incident of racial discrimination by a teacher at Melrose Veterans Memorial Middle School.

The letter explains the results of OCR’s investigation into an incident on April 1, 2014, in which an eighth grade history teacher made reference to a “plantation” after becoming frustrated with an African-American student.

The student is part of the METCO program, which is intended to increase racial diversity in suburban school districts.

Incident and response

OCR’s investigation, which formally began Nov. 24, 2014, established that the student and his classmates were working on individual research projects in the library shortly before lunch on the day of the incident.

The student and a few of his friends had stepped into the hallway in anticipation of the end of the period, OCR found, and their teacher instructed them to come back inside.

The student told OCR that, after he and his friends complied, he was “fooling around” and said in a high-pitched voice, “Coming, Ms. [Teacher].”

He told OCR that the teacher – whom the Free Press has previously identified as former teachers’ union president Naomi Baline – replied by asking him if he talks to his mother like that.

The student told OCR that he answered, “Sometimes,” and that the teacher responded by saying she didn’t believe him and by mimicking his remark.

Next, according to the student, the teacher said to him, either, “[Student], are you coming back to the plantation?” or, “Come back to the plantation.”

Another staff member in the vicinity told OCR she heard the teacher say, “What are we, going back to the plantation?”

Students then left the room talking about what had happened.

OCR found that the student and a classmate reported to the Principal and Assistant Principal during lunch that the teacher had said to him, “Come back to the plantation,” or words to that effect.

About an hour later, OCR found, the teacher acknowledged to the then-Principal and Assistant Principal – Tom Brow and Jaime Parsons, respectively – that she had made a statement to the student to the effect of, “Don’t talk to me like you’re on a plantation.”

Soon after, according to the letter of findings, Brow, Parsons, Baline and the student met. At that meeting, the teacher purportedly said that the student’s remark during class was akin to something a “slave” would say to a “master.”

The student’s mother told OCR that the Principal called her the day of the incident to inform her that an incident had occurred and that it was resolved. She said she did not learn about the details of the incident or the subsequent meeting until her son came home that afternoon.

OCR found that on April 8, the student’s mother filed a written complaint with the Principal in which she requested that her son be removed from Baline’s class.

After an initial response the next day from Superintendent of Schools Cyndy Taymore – in which Taymore offered to meet with the mother – the mother said that she had already met with city officials to discuss “deeper underlying issues” in the community, and reiterated her request to have her son removed from the class, per the letter of findings.

Subsequently, the letter notes, “the Student’s parent stated that she received no response, and OCR found no evidence to suggest that the District responded to her request.”

Then, on April 14, the student’s mother told her son to go to the guidance office instead of going to history class because, as the letter states, “it appeared the Teacher was continuing to teach his class.”

OCR said the mother also informed the Principal of this plan via email.

That same day, OCR found, the district placed the teacher on paid administrative leave.

Internal action

The district began an internal investigation of the incident on April 9, according to the letter of findings, led by Assistant Superintendent Patricia Wright-Lambright.

While the teacher, student, Principal and Assistant Principal were interviewed, OCR found that the lone staff member who had witnessed the teacher’s remark was not.

Additionally, OCR noted that the district did not identify or interview student witnesses of the incident, even though the student had informed the Assistant Superintendent that other students heard the teacher’s remarks.

OCR also found that, as part of the investigation, the Assistant Principal “was asked to provide information concerning whether the Student had any ‘prior behavioral incidents.’”

On April 28, according to OCR, the Assistant Superintendent issued an outcome letter to the student’s mother, with copies sent to the teacher and Principal.

In the outcome letter, the Assistant Superintendent stated that the district could not establish exactly what the teacher had said to the student, though there was a “consistent recollection that the word ‘plantation’ was spoken by the Teacher to the Student,” OCR wrote.

The outcome letter also stated that the teacher had responded to the student’s initial remark because he had made it in a “mimicking tone of voice.”

According to the OCR’s letter of findings, the district concluded that “because [the teacher’s] ‘use of a racially insensitive term’ to an African American student was an ‘isolated remark,’ it was not sufficient to create a hostile environment. The [outcome letter] stated, however, that the Teacher failed to provide a ‘safe environment that is conducive to learning’ by her conduct.”

Baline was placed on extended leave for the remainder of the 2013-14 school year.

Also in the outcome letter, OCR found the district recommended “the administration check in with [the Student] on a weekly basis to determine whether he continues to feel safe within his learning environment, and does not believe that he has been subjected to any retaliatory action as the result of the incident and the subsequent investigation.”

However, the letter of findings notes, “OCR did not find any evidence indicating that the Student received weekly ‘check-ins’ with any District staff.”

The outcome letter also recommended the teacher undergo training on racial and cultural awareness, which she received over the summer, and the district told OCR the teacher “was found to be ‘non-proficient in the area of professional culture’ on her evaluation, and that she received mentoring on improvement in professional judgment and engagement with students.”

Baline was “involuntarily” transferred to Melrose High School in the fall of 2014. The district’s plan, according to the letter, was for the teacher to be assigned only 10th and 11th grade classes for 2014-15, and only 11th grade classes for 2015-16 – ensuring that none of the students who had witnessed the incident would have her as a teacher again.

The student’s mother told OCR she did not learn of this plan until January of 2015, when she made a formal public records request to the District. OCR also found no evidence that the district had informed any parents of potentially affected students of the plan.

Baline retired after the 2014-15 school year.

OCR conclusions

The Office for Civil Rights ultimately concluded that the district violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in its handling of the incident.

To reach that conclusion, OCR needed to find that a racially hostile environment existed; that the district had notice of the racially hostile environment; and that the district failed to respond adequately to redress the racially hostile environment.

“The District acknowledged that the Teacher’s conduct was racially ‘insensitive,’ but maintained it was only an isolated remark, and as such, did not create a racially hostile environment,” the letter of findings reads. “OCR notes that a single, isolated incident, if sufficiently severe, can give rise to a hostile environment.”

OCR also noted that the teacher’s later remark to the student during a meeting with administrators – suggesting he had spoken to her as a “slave” would speak to a “master” – constituted an additional incident of harassment.

OCR asserted that the district’s approach “prolonged media attention and community concern” and “perpetuated the effects of the Teacher’s conduct on the Student.”

“[T]he District did not sufficiently respond to the hostile environment experienced by the Student in terms of investigating the matter,” the letter reads, “and eliminating and remedying the effects of the hostile environment on the Student and other potentially affected students.”

Resolution agreement

On Dec. 17, 2015, Taymore signed an eight-page resolution agreement outlining 19 steps the district must take in the coming months and years to better handle situations of alleged harassment.

Most of the steps are systemic, including the revision of district policies; implementation of training programs for administrators and staff on how to report and investigate potential incidents of harassment; programs for students around discrimination; and the hiring of a third-party consultant to conduct an annual needs assessment at the Middle School through 2017-18.

The resolution agreement will be discussed further in the Jan. 21 edition of the Free Press.

Re: Fed Office of Civil Rights Condemns Melrose Administration

Just sent an email to school committee Chairperson Driscoll and asked for a copy of the OCR findings that have been released by the OCR and not posted yet by the school committee - she lectured me on the difference between "release" and "posting" - the OCR has released the findings but the school committee is not required to post them. You have to ask the superintendent for a copy - she handles all these documents since they are sent to her. Also, Driscoll told me not to expect any documents quickly since the super was dealing with the recent death of a high school student. Talk about avoiding any responsibility to inform the public!

The last time a school committee member wanted some documents from the superintendent, the fee was over $8,000 - that was CKK. Give me a break! This is a group of criminals hiding behind norms and procedures - lacking any transparency and civic duty - don't they understand that they are the servants of the public - sounds more like a lawless group circling the wagons and ready for a stand-off!

Re: Fed Office of Civil Rights Condemns Melrose Administration

"This is a group of criminals hiding behind norms and procedures - lacking any transparency and civic duty - don't they understand that they are the servants of the public - sounds more like a lawless group circling the wagons and ready for a stand-off!" Yeah. That about says it.

Even their paid consultant at the last meeting (that same woman who put the public (those who could stomach watching, that is) through those embarrassing talks about "Big Bones and Little Bones") made a point of emphasizing that in Robert's Rules the "chair is the servant of the committee" and that the norms/rules must not be used "to stifle dissent," and must be based in "mutual trust and respect," points conveniently bypassed by this group of rogue officials.

Look at this month's 2 meeting packets and their real agenda is plain. And, oh by the way, you won't find anything about OCR in either packet except this week's "Legal Breakout" of bills (some $68,000 for 5 months from the summer through November....say what? and why is this here now when it is almost February????). There are a few passing mentions of OCR in future plans of policy BS, etc., but nothing that takes on the obvious Elephant in the Room in a "transparent" (their new favorite buzz word) manner. No surprise there (they don't like surprises, doncha know!).

And why exactly should it matter that they "be mindful at all times" that they are on camera? Is it so that they can rein in their own members who constantly interrupt, attempt to intimidate, make mocking faces, keep their heads on their electronic devices and disrespect the public and the job they're supposed to be doing, etc.? Or is it so that they will remember not to discuss anything of substance during the meeting and save it all for the secret meetings that everyone knows take place routinely and where all the actual decisions are made?

So much officious flowery gibberish, so little substance!

the previous meeting:

this week's meeting:

Of particular note, "Option 3: Melrose Model Addition of comment around sharing of information"

Melrose School Committee Norms Consideration
General discussion on 1/12 included note of Policy BEDD: Rules of Order (
Three norms documents were discussed: Lynnfield, Reading, and Melrose. Changes to those documents based on discussion are as follows:
o Option 1: Lynnfield Model
Minor language/capitalization/punctuation protocol changes (e.g. “Committee” from “School Committee”; “city” from “town”, consistent formatting)
Addition of signatures (as requested by Committee and considered a best practice)
Addition of “Share information to the extent possible.”
o Option 2: Reading Model
Minor language/capitalization/punctuation protocol changes (e.g. “Committee” from “School Committee”; “city” from “town”, consistent formatting).
Addition of signatures (as requested by Committee and considered a best practice).
To read Melrose Policy BHE: Use of Electronic Messaging by Members, please click here:
o Option 3: Melrose Model
 Addition of comment around sharing of information
 Policy references are in green type
 Combining of norms were done as requested
 Addition of “meeting in public vs. public meeting” comment
 Addition of “advance proposals” comment
 Addition of signatures (as requested by Committee and considered a best practice).
 1/26 expectation is that documents will be discussed and a final document will be agreed to.

Option 3:
Melrose School Committee Norms March 24, 2015 January 26, 2016
(Melrose School Committee Policy Manual - first vote 5/26/09, second vote 6/9/09)
The mission of the Melrose School Committee is to provide sound governance over the Melrose Public Schools, while fairly and openly, representing the citizens of Melrose. We consider educational excellence to be the foundation of our support for the district’s vision, mission, goals and objectives. We perform our duties using our best judgment and abilities in accordance with the governing laws and regulations; consistently prioritizing what is best for our students.
How we relate to one another
School Committee members will participate in open and respectful dialog and will always assume positive and constructive intent from others, and will respect each other’s opinions and responsibilities.
Committee members will share information with each other about the district as well as information from and outside educational opportunities in a timely fashion while respecting Open Meeting Law.
Committee members commit to a “no surprises” philosophy with the Administration and each other by sharing this information as soon as possible.
Members will focus debate, discussion, and comments on the issues, not personalities. We will strive to avoid factions. In all actions, the Committee will act as a board in making decisions, and not as individuals. Once a vote is taken, Committee members will move on to the next issue promptly.
In areas where the Committee has not explicitly determined an action, the Chair will make decisions for the Committee that he/she feels best fulfills our roles and responsibilities as pertain to our legitimate educational interests. If a member does not agree with the actions of the chair, they may bring the matter up to the entire committee for a determination. The committee as a whole can overrule the chair in any matter.
How we communicate with the Public
We will communicate with the public in an open, timely and professional manner, always being aware and knowledgeable of legal requirements and constraints.
We will be ambassadors for the District, spreading news of achievements and challenges in a constructive way and in a manner that models the professionalism we expect from district staff. We will use and promote a positive tone to encourage change. The School Committee will exhibit professionalism in our dress, behavior, writing and speaking; we will model the high quality
standards that we expect across and within the School Department and its staff.
There will be one official School Committee voice to the press. Any other member, speaking independently, will make it clear that s/he does not represent the School Committee.
How we govern
We shall exercise leadership in vision, planning, policy, budgeting, evaluation, and advocacy of the district. The School Committee will focus at all times on student achievement and teaching and learning. We will govern with the whole district in mind, not particular stakeholders, because we represent the entire community.
The Committee will, in all matters, respect the authority of the Superintendent as the educational leader of the district. Committee members do not individually have any authority to provide direction to the Superintendent, or to make requests of him/her.
All communication with the district will occur through the Superintendent’s office. The Committee will respect the chain of command in all District matters. Information from the district will be provided to all members to the extent that it relates to an educational purpose and/or the Committee’s legitimate governing responsibilities.
In our roles as liaisons to district groups, Committee members will mainly act primarily as observers and not participants. Even in these roles, requests for additional information will be sent to the Superintendent. The purpose of serving as a liaison is to understand and provide information as requested by the group, not to direct the actions of the group.
Information requested must have a legitimate educational interest for the Committee and fall within their roles and responsibilities. Members will make requests for information to the Superintendent directly. The Chair, in concert with the Superintendent, will determine the form of that information and how it is best provided in a timely manner, such that it reflects the committee’s roles and responsibilities. Committee members can request additional information through formal public records requests, or by a vote of the full committee.
The School Committee will work with the Superintendent each year to ensure that the Superintendent and District goals reflect the Committee’s vision for the district. All subsequent committee decisions will provide support for those goals.
Committee members will stay current with educational and legal matters and perform their responsibilities with due diligence.
The Committee will strive to respect and work collaboratively with other government bodies and all presenters to the committee.
Committee members will be held accountable to these commitments. We agree to be responsible for reminding each other of our norms and expectations in a helpful and constructive way, in private if possible. If the behavior continues, the matter should be brought to the Chair, and if needed, it will be discussed in a meeting, allowing all members to weigh in on the matter.
How we conduct meetings
We affirm that a Melrose School Committee meeting is a business meeting held in public – not a public meeting. Melrose School Committee meeting agendas will be designed with specific purposes in mind, and, wherever possible, agenda items will have specific actions. Agenda decisions of the chair will be respected, and the rolling agenda will reflect the upcoming meetings to the highest degree possible.
In meetings, all members will listen respectfully to each other’s positions, be respectful of dissent, and be open to new ideas. The Committee will support robust and open discussion of all ideas. When disagreeing with a matter under discussion, members will strive to offer constructive counter proposals and/or options for the committee to consider.
All members will come to meetings prepared, will be mindful of time and the agenda, will follow agreed upon meeting protocols, and will focus on the topic at hand. Proposals should be prepared in advance and included in packets for Committee and public review prior to voting.
To the extent that members have questions of the Superintendent or any individual appearing before the Committee on behalf of the School Administration, members will strive to provide any questions and requests they may have in advance of the meeting through the Superintendent.
Members will be mindful that they are on camera at all times.
When presenting new proposals, members should try to present multiple versions or give additional time for reflection, in order to increase understanding of the issues being presented.
Meetings will be carried on legally, professionally, and as transparently as possible with the goal of no surprises. Executive sessions will be held in the same manner and with the confidentiality allowed under state statutes and regulations.
How we can improve
The Committee will self-reflect on our actions and perform a self-evaluation. The focus of this self-reflection will be on teaching and learning and whether our actions have improved student achievement and educational outcomes. We will continue to evaluate our meeting structure.
The School Committee will endeavor to gather community evaluative input of our actions to be included in our self-reflection.
The Committee will make these norms publicly available in order to show our intention and model the behavior we expect across the district.
Christine Casatelli
Lizbeth DeSelm
Mayor Robert Dolan
Margaret Driscoll
Jessica Dugan
Carrie Kourkoumelis
Edward O’Connell

Re: Fed Office of Civil Rights Condemns Melrose Administration

Please don't post the text of all the garbage from the school committee or superintendent on this site. When I want to torture myself, I'll go to the web site on my own. Talk about the crap they do - don't post it. Thanks - Go Pats

Re: Fed Office of Civil Rights Condemns Melrose Administration

Shame on you, "Enough." Not everyone can figure out their way through the rat's maze the school committee and administrators have constructed to the official documents. You can simply scroll past if you don't like what you see. Grow up.

Re: Fed Office of Civil Rights Condemns Melrose Administration

Enough Already
Please don't post the text of all the garbage from the school committee or superintendent on this site. When I want to torture myself, I'll go to the web site on my own. Talk about the crap they do - don't post it. Thanks - Go Pats

GO PATS! Don't read it if you're tortured. But it will stay up as others are not as informed as you. Sorry buddy.

Re: Fed Office of Civil Rights Condemns Melrose Administration

Yeay Patty! Thank you for upholding what's right (Wright)![8-)]

Re: Fed Office of Civil Rights Condemns Melrose Administration

Yes, the Federal investigators were professional in their Findings but roundly condemned the Melrose administration for multiple violations of the law, and for the creation of a racially hostile environment. It isn't just racially hostile, either. It is hostile to anyone who has the courage to question those who are so clearly abusing their power, it is hostile to those who dare express a differing opinion, it is now a hotbed of political and administrative evangelism. This spirit of fundamentalist intolerance is embodied by most of the elected officials (we all know the exceptions) and most of the school administration. It is also embodied by the intolerant officers and too many of the members of the Ed Foundation, along with the peripheral cheerleaders who proselytized for the mayor's raise and the override.

This kind of intolerance and political machine is what one might expect in the least educated parts of the world, not in a place like Melrose where most have a fairly sophisticated level of education and a privileged economy. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that the ignorance and hatefulness is willful, not an accident of poor economics and education. The students and teachers at the middle school are not the ones in need of the most dire reeducation. It is just as Mr. Mroz said last Tuesday, that it is the administrators (and those who have kept them in power) who need to be held accountable and either removed from their positions (the reasonable expectation given the extreme nature of their wrongdoing) or forced to be retrained (not that that is likely to correct such inherent wrong attitudes). It's up to us in the community to make this happen, apparently, because the system is so broken that the checks and balances that were supposed to be in place (like the school committee) are part of the sick machine.

Re: Fed Office of Civil Rights Condemns Melrose Administration

With current chairperson Driscoll in charge - forget any improvements - now we have to deal with a delusional, alternative universe living, out in space personality! If you wonder what I am talking about - just watch her pontificate during the last school committee meeting on Tuesday, Feb 9th about legal bills! That would have anyone heading out of the city - looking for sanity!

Re: Fed Office of Civil Rights Condemns Melrose Administration

Now come on MFD. I think you are being a little harsh. Can't you make the connection between Ms. Driscoll's household budget for holes in her roof as compared to a multi-million dollar school district budget and hundreds of thousands of dollars/seven months worth of out of control spending on legal expenses employed to obstruct a Federal Agency's investigation of Civil rights Violations?? and without the school committee's prior approval?[:-?]

Re: Fed Office of Civil Rights Condemns Melrose Administration

So there are still legal suits against the school system/C.Taymore from special needs/PPS deficiencies. Most-likely a civil law suit stemming from the guilty finding by The OCR from the family of the student who was racially abused by MTA/MEA President and teacher, Naomi Baline. This student who suffered further humiliation at the incompetent hands of Patti White-Lambright for her deliberate sabotage and inadequate aka fake investigation into the matter as noted in the OCR findings. Two additional complaints filed with the OCR based on race and retaliation. Non-compliance from Taymore with refusing to release public document requests by both Melrose residents and a MSC member. Documents paid for by the very residents who are financing these legal bills, trainings, OCR fees, etc. When all is said and done, and Taymore slithers away to her home outside of Melrose, living high off the hog off Melrose tax dollars, we the citizens of Melrose, are left with this incomprehensible mess. A community now known as the example of how not to be. The poster-child for racial discrimination, cover-ups, discrimination, retaliation, bullying, and non-compliance. What a freaken mess. It's going to take a very long time to get us back to where we where before Taymore got her hooks into Melrose. Ask the truth about why Picone is jumping ship. Demand the truth on why the Director of E.S. has stepped down. Vet who Taymore knew, wife of a principal who wiggled himself on board to vote for her over a better suited and highly educated candidate. Wake up Melrose. And Mayor Dolan, where will you be if you don't take action? Hope you give that a lot of thought. The citizens of Melrose are looking to you do your duty. Please listen to all of us and not just your inner circle.