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It is regrettable that Chairman Friedmann substituted “expediency” for “civility” at the August 21 SB meeting. With all the dissension that engulfed the Board’s time and attention over several months, I had hoped that the Board could focus on civility toward the audience and to each other. The two points I raised that evening centered on civility and transparency, and I was very disappointed to see that the Chair lacked an understanding of both. In his rush to adhere strictly to the “clock,” he missed a perfect opportunity to show respect for John Halsey’s First Amendment rights to free speech. Mr. Halsey had every right to set the record straight when he felt certain statements by the Chair misrepresented the facts. Instead of allowing Mr. Halsey to respectfully describe the Chair’s error and misconception, Mr. Friedmann raised “both hands into the air” to silence a fellow Board member. Almost everyone in the room was stunned by the Chair’s refusal and was tempted to shout out, “Let him speak; let him speak.” Many in the audience also supported the resident who identified the Board’s bias by noting that other members speak freely and exchange ideas as they should, but this courtesy is often denied to Mr. Halsey. There is clearly a double standard and it was egregiously evident on August 21. Why hadn’t the Chair learned a lesson in civility from the audience? Mr. Friedmann should recognize his mistake and apologize to Mr. Halsey and the public for gross negligence by not allowing a fellow Board member to offer the correct interpretation of an issue being discussed.
For those who were not present at the August 21 meeting or were relegated to the hallway, since dozens of Mr. Halsey’s supporters attended, all voters should be aware of the following points. Recently, I reviewed the SB’s meetings on RCTV and appreciate the experienced members’ honesty when making difficult decisions, such as electing a new Chair. But at the end of that discussion, just before the last tie-breaking vote, I was very disturbed to witness the junior member (Ms. Alvarado), who was not asked to critique the merits of the two names in play, suddenly use inflammatory rhetoric to publicly discredit one of them (Mr. Halsey), a highly respected member with over 29 years serving the children and families of Reading. Then in July, I found it hypocritical that she emphatically assumed the role of the Board’s moral authority, threatening and preaching civility, after she herself has been publicly uncivil toward a fellow Board member in more than one instance.
I also want to call attention to another issue that needs clear guidelines to prevent what occurred on April 2, the evening before the town-wide election. Having an advantage being a Barrows parent, one candidate (Ms. Alvarado), accessed the Barrows School’s parent email list and sent an email blast to the school community, soliciting votes and promoting her political agenda. Many Barrows parents and voters contacted me to object to her unfair, unethical tactics which were a disservice to her opponent (John Arena). When schools communicate through parent emails, I know firsthand parents expect and trust their email contacts will be used for school-related initiatives, not for unfair political gain. Where is the transparency and fairness that was a foundational element touted by Ms. Alvarado and her supporters? Instead of preaching transparency, it should be practiced by all members of the Board.