The Board of Education had a full agenda Tuesday including informational and action items, and a revisiting of the alleged bullying incidents at Newtown High School.
Board members got an update on student transportation services from the company that will provide them when the new contract kicks in on July 1. They heard from high school Principal Charles “Chip” Dumais about declining graduation rates; and Director of Business Ronald Bienkowski shared news of a surplus in the education budget, asking the board for some direction on where to reallocate those resources.
John Dufour, president of All-Star Transportation told the board five new buses have already been delivered to the town and a recruitment effort is under way to hire new bus drivers.
Dufour said his company has signed a five-year lease of property at 31 Peck Lane to house the buses. His brother Richard Dufour, the company’s vice president of operations, said he has mapped existing bus routes and run those routes himself, which helped as he tweaked them for the 2012-13 school year.
While some routes will be changed and some buses consolidated all current bus stops will remain the same, Richard Dufour said. He said the new route information will be available to parents by July 15.
Parent Rob Griffin, who has two children, asked the board to consider creating a transportation oversight committee and a clear line of communication between parents and educators to address any concerns that may arise with the new transportation service. One bus will transport children from Reed Intermediate School and St. Rose of Lima School, where Griffin’s children are enrolled.
“Safety is the most important aspect of our responsibility to the children,” Griffin said.
Graduation Rates Down
On the issue of graduation rates, Board Chair Debbie Leidlein said recent figures “didn’t look very favorable for Newtown.” The board invited Dumais to the meeting to get a better understanding of the rates and whether they represent a temporary trend or something that needs to be addressed by the town’s education officials.
“We need more information before the board can decide whether there’s anything that we need to do to address the concerns (of declining graduation rates),” Leidlein said.
Bullying Back on the Agenda
A greater number of people showed up at the meeting Tuesday in support of Angel L. Santos III, the 15-year-old and alleged retaliation by the coaching staff against those who report bullying.
Santos alleged the bullying has escalated since he spoke about it publicly. He said an alleged threat by two students on Monday led his mother Griselle Santos to call police.
“This has been going on since November 29 … All these policies and procedures will do me no good … There’s no money in the world that I can sue you for that can replace that child,” said Griselle Santos, who is concerned for her son’s safety and his ability to learn in an alleged climate of fear.
Resident Eliza Hoffman told the board she has heard about bullying incidents too many times to dismiss them, and fears they are being brushed under a rug.
“People think we’re out for a witch hunt,” she said, noting that nothing could be further from the truth. “Good people can make bad choices and make mistakes,” Hoffman added. Turning to Angel Santos, she said, “I believe you, I believe you, I believe you.”
Alice Mascher, the parent of a Newtown High School graduate, said criticism that the Santos’ and other’s complaints are prompted by playing time concerns are misleading and untrue. She read to the board a portion of a letter written by Dumais and published in the Nighthawk News in February 2010 that states, in part:
“We have no tolerance for repercussion against students by any member of the staff … Please share your concerns with the teacher or coach in a timely, appropriate manner without fear of repercussion or reprisal.”
Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson asked for patience as the investigation into the Santos’ claims continues. Robinson told the board she expects the investigation to wrap up soon and to provide them with a written report within weeks.
Editor's note: this article was updated to include additional information from last night's meeting.