Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Bulletin: Trustees Duck

The Trustees of Catskill Central School District refused last night to allow public discussion of an e-mail message written by Superintendent Kathleen Farrell, inadvertently distributed widely, requesting an administrator to "Please go KILL these people…..please please please.”

President James Garafalo opened the school board’s regular meeting, in the high school library, with the statement that the board members had reviewed “all the relevant facts” of the case at a closed-door October 13 meeting, had “resolved” the matter, and feels “confidence” in Superintendent Farrell. “That’s all the board has to say.”

When no board member said otherwise, most of the people who had come to the meeting—an extraordinarily large turnout, composed of teachers, former teachers, support staff and parents, most of them dressed in black--walked out.

They were followed by television and print journalists, who took statements from the head of the teachers’ union and from the teachers whose questions about policy concerning closed and opened doors had most immediately triggered Dr Farrell’s outburst.

Patty Houlihan, president of the Catskill Teachers Association, expressed “profound disappointment” with the board’s stonewalling. She suggested, as did several other teachers in the crowd, that if the “Please kill” message had been sent by a teacher or a student, it “would have probably sent us into lock down and the police would have been called.”

About 100 members of the Catskill Teachers’ Association, Ms Hulihan recalled, had voted unanimously to condemn the putative apology that Dr Farrell made for her October 3 message. It was addressed to Terri Dubuke, one of two teachers whose e-mailed queries about door policy had triggered the “kill” request. It voiced “sincere apology for inadvertently copying you an email correspondence to John Willabay [director of facilities] regarding your questions about fire doors, locked doors, etc.”

Ms Dubuke told Seeing Greene last night during the exodus that “If [Superintendent Farrell] had truly apologized to me, I would not be here now.” The “apology,” she noted, was only for the inadvertent copying, not for the homicidal sentiment. And in point of fact, the message was inadvertently copied to scores of recipients. Among them was Lenny Collins, the other teacher whose e-mailed query about door-closing policy had most immediately provoked Dr Farrell. Mr Collins too voiced keen disappointment at the superintendent’s response to complaints and at the school board’s stonewalling.

Following the exodus, the board carried on with business as usual. Dr Farrell did step into the hall, however, to a bid for news media interviews library. She told a Channel 6 interviewer that “I have made a very sincere apology” for the “unfortunate language” that “unfortunately” reached “one person…by error.” For “private correspondence” to generate such an upheaval is a “true tragedy.” “I hope folks will recognize” the ”sincerity” of the remorse.

That corridor interview was witnessed by a seven students who were heads of Catskill High School’s student government. They were there, they said, because attending a School Board meeting is an obligation that goes with office.

Josh Hart, president of the student government, said that the students “generally” were “shocked at the way some faculty and staff have treated the act of humble apology” made by Dr Farrell. And “It is unfortunate that something as trivial as this could shake the foundation of trust of such an administrator.”

Veronica Hilcken, student body treasurer, estimated that Dr Farrell had “apologized well” but owed an apology to more than one individual. As for the action of the School Board, in refusing the “Please kill” episode a public airing, “If I hadn’t been required to be here I would have walked out with the teachers.”

The episode of the errant “Please kill” message was first reported last Friday in Seeing Greene. It was picked up by Kingston Daily Freeman, Catskill Daily Mail and Albany TimesUnion reports in Tuesday and Wednesday stories, as well as in regional newscasts.

When Board President Garafalo was telephoned by a TimesUnion reporter, he was unforthcoming, delivered a spurious version of the law concerning confidentiality of Board actions, and voiced abuse before hanging up.

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