By Aaron Leibowitz
September 16. 2015 3:35PM
Second civil rights case opens against Melrose Public Schools
On July 30, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights informed the Melrose Public Schools that it was opening for investigation a complaint filed against the district by a recently non-renewed teacher.
“The Complainant alleges that the District retaliated against her after she refused to follow an instruction from a supervisor to treat the students in her classroom differently by race,” reads OCR’s letter to Superintendent of Schools Cyndy Taymore. “She further alleges that after voicing concerns about her supervisor’s directive with the District’s Civil Rights Officer and you, the District terminated her employment.”
OCR determined that the allegations fall within its jurisdiction and therefore decided to open the issue for investigation. The letter, signed by Civil Rights Attorney Ramzi Ajami, clarifies that OCR’s decision to investigate “in no way implies that OCR has made a determination on the merits of this case.”
Specifically, Ajami wrote that OCR would investigate “whether the District retaliated against the Complainant for a protected activity by giving her a poor performance evaluation or terminating her employment with the District.”
The teacher, Kristen McCarthy, taught photography and introductory art at Melrose High School and was eligible for professional status (tenure) at the end of the 2014-15 school year.
McCarthy told the Free Press that, about halfway through the school year, a supervisor gave her the directive to “separate students of color” in her photography class. Specifically, McCarthy said that three black students typically sat together, and the supervisor wanted her to separate them from each other.
“I explained that I felt that was wrong, I certainly wasn’t going to do that,” McCarthy said. “It just doesn’t make sense to me to move them just because they’re black and they happen to be sitting next to each other.”
According to McCarthy, another art teacher at the high school -- who had already received professional status -- also refused to follow a similar directive.
On her evaluation at the end of the school year, McCarthy said that she was given a mark of “Needs Improvement” in the area of teaching all students. McCarthy provided the Free Press with a passage in the evaluation that addressed the seating arrangement in her classroom.
“In the fall, Ms. McCarthy was asked to have her students sit in a U shape or in groups by her Department Director to promote equity, encourage collaboration and allow Ms. McCarthy to circulate among her students,” the passage reads. “Her photography classroom continues to be set up in rows. Seating is not assigned by Ms. McCarthy and students of color continue to sit in the back row.”
McCarthy alleges that she was not given tenure for this reason, and that other areas of her evaluation included what she feels are “inconsistencies.”
The district gave her the option to resign, McCarthy said, but she declined. She also said the district made her another offer to resign more recently, in an attempt to resolve her complaint through OCR’s Early Complaint Resolution process.
Ultimately, McCarthy and the district were unable to come to a mutually agreeable resolution, so OCR will formally begin an investigation into her complaint.
Taymore declined to comment about the investigation or the district’s decision to non-renew McCarthy, citing the confidentiality of all personnel matters. She did, however, respond to general questions about the district’s classroom seating approach.
“Is there a policy about breaking up black students? No, absolutely not,” Taymore told the Free Press earlier this week. “In every classroom, we do not want to see kids in rows, we don’t want to see kids choosing their seats. That doesn’t maximize opportunities to learn from each other ... If I never see kids mixed up so everyone gets a chance to work with everyone, I have a concern about how purposefully [is the teacher] planning, how well [is the teacher] thinking about kids and their needs,” Taymore added.
Asked whether she would ever tell teachers to consider race in their seating arrangements, Taymore said she would not.
McCarthy said she met with Taymore and principal Marianne Farrell to express her concern regarding the directive to break up students of color, but she said she was unsatisfied by their response. That’s when she decided to contact OCR.
“I know that the district is trying to focus on diversity, but this is not the way to go about it,” McCarthy said. “The fact that I was told to do that, it was discriminatory.”
By Aaron Leibowitz
September 16. 2015 4:16PM
Middle School civil rights incident sparked concerns
On Aug. 20, the Melrose Public Schools issued a statement acknowledging that the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights had found the district to be in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The determination followed an investigation by OCR that began last November regarding an incident of alleged racial harassment at Melrose Veterans Memorial Middle School in April of 2014. The district is now working with OCR to remedy its non-compliance with Title VI.
But some in the community remain unsatisfied with the district’s handling of the incident and disturbed by the incident itself.
According to parents, teachers and students at the middle school, the incident occurred in the library, where multiple eighth grade history classes were meeting to work on a research project.
Several students reported to their parents or teachers that a social studies teacher — Naomi Baline, a former union president who is Caucasian — made reference to a “plantation” after becoming frustrated with a black student who was part of the METCO program, which places inner-city students in suburban high schools.
One eighth grade student, who requested anonymity, was entering the library moments after the incident occurred.
“Once it happened, it spread across our grade like wildfire,” she said. “I heard it from 30 or more people saying the same thing.”
Accounts of the exact words Baline used vary, but multiple sources said that the word “plantation” was among them.
According to the anonymous student, the teacher was back in the classroom the next day. She was then absent for several days, returned once more, and ultimately took a leave of absence for the remainder of the school year.
When the 2014-15 school year began, Baline had been reassigned to teach non-freshman classes at the high school. She retired this past June.
“I think we assumed that it was being handled,” said one teacher at the middle school, who also requested anonymity. “We thought she was gone. They moved her to the high school, which was just nuts because she moved with the kids who were involved with the incident.”
Parent Lori Ashline was one of several Melrose residents who filed a formal complaint to OCR, which opened its investigation on Nov. 24, 2014.
According to the anonymous teacher and student, the incident was never directly addressed at the middle school.
“It was really weird because we feel like nobody ever said anything,” the student said.
The teacher said that students approached her to discuss the matter, but she felt there was little she could do to help.
“We were kind of waiting for a chance to set the record straight with kids,” the teacher said. “It’s hard to be open and honest with kids when you’re not getting that message top-down.”
Shortly after the incident occurred, City Solicitor Robert Van Campen told the Free Press that Baline had a strong record with the district.
“The teacher involved has a relatively unblemished record with the school district, is a very good teacher,” Van Campen said.
In the Notice of Investigation letter the district received in November, OCR requested to speak with Baline along with six other staff members and administrators: Superintendent of Schools Cyndy Taymore, Assistant Superintendent Patricia Wright-Lambright, Assistant Principal Jaime Parsons, Library Media Specialist Wendy Arnold, Social Studies Director Bryan Corrigan and METCO Director Doreen Ward.
Corrigan and Ward both declined to comment when contacted by the Free Press. Baline had not responded to a request for comment at press time.
More transparency needed?
Speaking to the Free Press this week, Superintendent Taymore said that the process has been a learning experience for the district.
“Could we have done things better? Absolutely,” Taymore said. “Conducting these investigations is not natural to educators, so we’re always learning how to do better.”
Taymore also spoke on the matter at a Sept. 8 School Committee meeting.
“At the time that the incidentwas originally reported, Melrose Public Schools administrators immediately initiated an internal investigation and took corrective and remedial actions to address the teacher’s inappropriate and unacceptable conduct,” Taymore said. “The district also offered remedial measures to the victimized student.”
Taymore was given the opportunity this week to address the individual allegations from parents and students, but said that she could not speak to any specifics of the case and could not discuss the teacher in question. She has said on numerous occasions that she cannot speak about personnel matters without exposing the district to a potential lawsuit.
Taymore also declined to comment about why the teacher was transferred to the high school. Firing a tenured teacher is notoriously challenging and expensive – in a 2009 study by the New Teacher Project, 86 percent of administrators said they do not always pursue dismissal of poorly performing teachers due to the costly and time-consuming process.
Still, some Melrosians believe that the district should be more transparent — and take more direct corrective action — in response to complaints of teacher misconduct.
“Based on some other similar variations of inappropriate actions by teachers, there may be [a pattern] of the administration not acting and using privacy for the teachers as an excuse,” said the anonymous student’s father, who also requested anonymity. “In a way, it sets a terrible example of almost approval by omission of condemnation.”
Parents at the middle school were never formally notified of the April 2014 incident. When Ashline sent an email to then-principal Tom Brow asking what was being done to address the matter with students, Brow replied: “Thank you for sharing your concern. I take all such matters very seriously. I can not talk further about personnel matters, I am sure you can respect that. I can assure you that [your daughter] will enjoy the last leg of her middle school journey.”
That response did not sit well with Ashline.
“It is my business what you’re going to do to address students like my daughter who witnessed this,” she said.
Taymore said that, since the April 2014 incident, the district has “engaged in targeted efforts to improve our response to allegations of bullying and harassment.” She added that staff and administration have undergone training focused on the root causes of discrimination.
A consultant for METCO has trained staff on the issue of race and the subtleties of microaggressions, Taymore said, and staff received a full-day training on cultural proficiency in January. Administrators have also completed professional development around the topics of “protected class” and disabilities.
“As painful as it has been for the school community and for the children involved, there has been something gained out of this in that we’ve been able to have these conversations,” Taymore said.
Race and racism, the superintendent noted, have become common topics of discussion across the country.
“As a city and a school system,” she said, “I think we need to participate in that dialogue.”
What a total disgrace.
Citizens need to step up and all of us need to demand the resignation of all who have led to these cases. There simply is no excuse. And there is no spin that can wipe it away. CT and every member of the School admin and committee who participated, and any legal counsel who "guided" them through this process leading to this disgraceful and gravely harmful situation need to be forced to resign.
This is totally unacceptable and Ms. Taymore and her administration need to be held accountable - and I don't mean by a pay raise!
I guess this is the case that Margaret Driscoll had no knowledge of when I asked if there was another civil rights case against the district and she replied that she had no knowledge of one - Why would anyone vote for her in November for school committee?
Margaret Driscoll - please resign your position - and by the way - take Taymore with you!
“Could we have done things better? Absolutely,” Taymore said. “Conducting these investigations is not natural to educators, so we’re always learning how to do better.”
Um, Overpaid Superintendent, THAT IS YOUR JOB. How can you say it's not natural? Are you kidding me? Basic human decency does not come naturally to you? I bet kindergarteners would have cared more and done more for the victims.
Moreover, I see a pattern here: give some people a little power and they think they can do anything.. They back the supervisor bc the teacher did not put the kids into the U and separate them because they were all black? Did she say separate the white kids? Of course not. They are petty bureaucrats who focus on punishing competent people just because their egos can't deal with the tiniest bit of dissent. They are threatened by teachers who care about their students and whose students recognize the teacher as being genuine. Then they further compound this stupid situation by getting rid of the teacher whom the students loved and who obviously really cared about ALL THE KIDS.
The spin they are trying to put on is NOT fooling the decent people of this town.
Mr. Kaynor is always brilliant each and every time he speaks and Mr. Kenny was knocked it out of the park. Cyndy Taymore and every member of the school committee (Ms. Kourkoumelis as the lone exception) should be forced to resign in disgrace just like Whitworth and the other heads of the Melrose YMCA after the rapist tragedy. Maybe Dolan will continue to go MIA at future meetings and we'll be rid of him too. If he had any courage he would own this and step down too.
How much more shame will this community continue to bear?
No one forget: Tom Brow was the principal of the middle school for many, many years before this last racial incident occurred.
The nasty environment in the school grew up under his neglect. It was his failure at being a good principal the 7th grade math teacher and the 8th grade history teacher were allowed to harm children over so many years. Those are only the two publicized cases. There were so many more.
Brow wasn't any master educator. He was a master manipulator. He convinced parents not to pursue obvious problems in the middle school or redress harms done to their kids. He assured the parents who had power he would take care of things privately. He was such a master manipulator he actually got parents of kids who were harmed directly under his watch to support him forever after because he 'personally' saw to 'protecting' the kid from harm. He even got them to donate money to his favorite projects.
Naive parents, including me, for too long were completely misled by him. Even in the latest incident, he told parents he was taking care of the situation but just couldn't tell them what he was doing because of confidentiality laws. He apparently did nothing and hid behind those laws.
Brow's middle school failed in academics year after year, in civics, in morals and in ethics. He created the environment where bad things happened between teachers and students and between students and students.
Thank God he's gone.
TB did many things wrong, but this mess is not on him. This is Year 2 of his being gone, so kicking this man who gave 39 years of his professional life to Melrose students when he's not even here to defend himself is low, even by Melrose standards. This one (meaning the whole bloody mess) is directly on the current administration. Oh by the way, TB tried to get rid of the bad teachers you referenced and was prevented from doing so by HisDizhonor. He also tried to do the right thing in the 2014 mess and was prevented from doing so by HisDizhonor's legal counsel and the disgraced super. So take your cheap shots and direct your anger at the appropriate individuals.
"“The teacher involved has a relatively unblemished record with the school district, is a very good teacher,” Van Campen said."
Who is this attorney, and how on earth has he stayed employed here???? "relatively unblemished record"???? What the h$ll is that supposed to mean? What "blemish" or blemishes is he alluding to? This kind of remark indicates complete incompetence and lack of discretion.
"Taymore also declined to comment about why the teacher was transferred to the high school. Firing a tenured teacher is notoriously challenging and expensive – in a 2009 study by the New Teacher Project, 86 percent of administrators said they do not always pursue dismissal of poorly performing teachers due to the costly and time-consuming process."
This is outrageous. Obviously CT just moved the priest, as it were, to another parish. The statistics she cited are completely irrelevant. Just exactly how low does the bar have to go for this woman to fire an employee, tenured or not? And clearly she didn't have any trouble "non-renewing" a beloved and highly respected art teacher because this was her way of removing a problem rather than firing the new chair CT had just hired and thereby having to look bad (she looks worse, so her poor decision backfired!).
How about the "costly and time-consuming process" of the legal actions against our district that are a direct result of the completely awful mismanagement of this administration?
Time for the community to demand resignations!
This OCR investigation has little to do with the original racist comment as bad as it is. It has everything to do with the superintendent's office, certain principals and city legal staff who intimidate and retaliate against complainants and victims in order to scare them into dropping their complaints. Sadly, this illegal practice has been very effective since 2012 and has only provided cover for the offenders, encouraging more bad behavior. But once in a while a brave soul or two won't stand for unethical behavior in their community and fight back on behalf of us all. NOW is the time for the Office of Civil Rights to address the core problem: The illegal retaliatory practices against complainants.
TB was a AS*HOLE
School Comm June 9
The situation surrounding the 2nd OCR case
The Boston Globe ran another article today about the second OCR investigation. How much bad press do our schools need to get before something can be done? This is an embarrassment for our community.
art teacher Kristin McCarthy
KThorp tries to shut her down, as per usual
KMcarthy: concluding a passionate and articulate statement, [if these practices continue,] "Who will be left to teach our children?"
student Isabella White @ 10:45 so articulate, profound
"....heard a voice comparing art to hula hoops...she's taught me so many live lessons that I can't count the number on my hands...The Art Program itself has grown because of Ms. McCarthy...because of her willingness and drive to make it better than it was the previous day...Her personality is contagious as well as her motivation...Ms. McCarthy will always be a teacher no matter what happens to her job...Her role in my life as a role model and an art teacher will forever be ingrained in my heart. She has changed me in the most positive ways, and I cannot thank her enough."
Someone must've prevailed upon the Weekly News guy to get with the program. Finally he has a front-page, above-the-fold piece about the 2nd OCR, after running nothing but mostly the garbage fluff stuff for most of the year. Last week he had the letter to the editor in praise of Ms. K, front and center where it belonged, instead of buried like the Free Press had done. Let's hope this editor (who has been known to do the right thing in years past) stays with the program and prints the real news instead of the prefab garbage and out-and-out lies coming out of the 2nd floor of City Hall.
It's X 3. X 2 is from last year and happened before the teacher filed.
Is there a third complaint being investigated by OCR?
I would gather there will be multiple complaints filed soon if they haven't been filed already. The current ongoing investigations by OCR are providing cover now for those that have been victimized in the past but were too frightened to fight back after being retaliated against by the city solicitor's office/school district thugs. The mayor and the rest of the school committee (with the exception of Ms. Kourkoumelis) are complicit in these crimes in that they had information that the violations were taking place but did nothing about it and in many cases, actively attempted to cover up the complaints and even mislead fellow school committee members. Believe me when I say you are only seeing the tip of the iceberg when reading the local newspapers. The extent of the misbehavior is far reaching. The superintendent's office has misused the court system, city solicitor's office and local law enforcement in order to carry out their policy of intimidating complainants. And its not a stretch to consider they may be using the Department of Children and Families as well.
I wonder why Clown Patrol has no posts on this string?
Is there any update?
The courageous art teacher who refused to "separate the students of color" when commanded (and later punished with firing) by the idiotic arts department chair is no longer working in the district and 3 additional OCR cases have resulted, including for retaliatory actions which are expressly illegal under the civil rights laws as administered by the US Dept of Ed Office Of Civil Rights.
The racially hostile atmosphere that the district/Taymore were cited for is worse than ever. Hostile describes every aspect of the administration as run by this despot.
Wow! I hope the teacher is doing well wherever she is. It's demoralizing that this is happening in 2016. Thank you for the update.
Stay tuned. There are more OCR investigations being filed related to the rampant illegal retaliation by top school administrators and city legal counsel against SPED students and their parents shortly after filed complaints with the school district for various reasons.
Retaliation is an act of discrimination, coercion, intimidation or threat against a person for the purpose of interfering with the exercise of a protected right. Retaliation is illegal under both federal and state laws.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act are federal laws that prohibit discrimination based on an individual’s disability. Each of these federal anti-discrimination laws also prohibits retaliation by school personnel and their contractors or legal counsel.
It is particularly outrageous what has happened here in Melrose since 2012 because the superintendent, assistant superintendent, city solicitor and various implicated principals in the district knew very well that their retaliatory actions taken against victims and parents, simply for filing complaints, were violations of state and federal law, and in some cases criminal statutes.
Folks, maybe it's time, to demand that our superintendent resigns.
I teach in another town. This afternoon was a professional development workshop about SPED and Civil Rights law. The example of what not to do with regard to Civil Rights law was the Melrose Public Schools. The educational lawyer who ran the event used the Melrose violations as our model to avoid. She highlighted all the mistakes and "errors in judgement" made in dealing with the student, families, and OCR. So embarrassing.
Embarrassing? I think it's funny. The superintendent, city solicitor, and mayor begged for this.
Next up, how to handle bullying so you don't have Kick a Ginger Day in your town.
Depressing - Can you share any additional information about this? Are seminar materials published? Identity of the speaker? This is serious stuff, and the fact that Melrose is a laughingstock on this issue is not to be taken lightly. Of course the superintendent should be forced before she does any more damage.