School Committee Adopts Policy

Reading, MA — After more than two hours of discussion, the School Committee voted 5-1 to accept changes and amendments to policy IMB, the teaching of controversial issues, on Monday, March 29. The first reading of the policy was presented back on December 3, with the committee asking for significant changes to what was presented. Superintendent John Doherty sought out input from teachers and students and a small working group of two School Committee members. After a second reading, more changes were made to develop the final product.

School Committee member Carla Nazzaro, one of the working group members, felt that the policy changes are too broad and that the version of the policy presented in December should be the version to which potential amendments should be made. After much discussion, Chair Chuck Robinson ruled that the current version would be the working version, and members were free to offer amendments to it to create a final version.

After the chair’s decision, the committee voted on language throughout the document, primarily siding on what was already presented, with one approved addition suggested by a teacher through the meeting’s chat feature. It was made clear throughout the discussion that the policy intends to provide guidelines for teachers, creating dialogs within the curriculum, and was not designed to limit “organic” discussions that happen when events occur outside the curriculum that students wish to discuss. In the end, the only dissenting vote on the policy was Nazzaro.

Member Shawn Brandt praised the policy, stating that it “affirms the roles of students and teachers in navigating difficult conversations and provides a framework as to how to approach them.” Member John Parks agreed with Brandt, stating, “The language is where it needs to be for current times.”

The committee also voted 6-0 to approve a resolution brought by Brandt and Parks condemning harassment and intimidation of district administrators and staff. A vote which Robinson declared as “a no brainer as to what we should be doing.” Member Thomas Wise agreed, “The language [of the resolution] is spot on.” The resolution had been discussed in the previous meeting, but the vote was delayed due to open meeting law concerns.

Superintendent John Doherty opened the discussion of the resolution with a statement urging passage of both items on the agenda. “[The resolution] will send a clear message to our staff  . . . that they are respected, and intimidation will not be tolerated,” Doherty stated. He also shared that the email to Reading Memorial High School Principal Kate Boynton, which precipitated the resolution, was “the tipping point of a list of harassing and intimidating and threatening communications” to staff and administrators, especially around the work of equity and social justice issues. 

Doherty expressed concern for the staff, continuing that many are “exhausted from ongoing criticism and lack of community support.”  He did suggest that the bulk of the criticism was from “loud voices, not necessarily the majority of voices.” He concluded by asking the community for change.

“The negative tone needs to stop.” Doherty declared.

By a 6-0 vote, the committee also approved a timeline and process for hiring a new Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning, as the current Assistant Superintendent, Christine Kelley, has announced her resignation effective June 30. Doherty expects the process to be concluded by May 10.

The School Committee adjourned at 10:00 pm.

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