Reading, MA — Accusations of a possible ethics violation by School Committee member Shawn Brandt were addressed by the School Committee during its July 22 meeting. School Committee chair Thomas Wise read a prepared statement in which he stated that, in the opinion of counsel Colby Brunt, Brandt did not commit a Family Educational and Privacy Act (FERPA) violation when he was forwarded over 270 emails generated through public records request by a third party. Several of the emails mistakenly contained private, unredacted information about at least six Reading Public Schools students. Information from these emails was later published on a website.
Wise reviewed a timeline of events that led the committee to this point, beginning with the February public records request and offering “sincere apologies to students and families affected” by the mistake.
Wise continued that while Mr. Brandt acknowledged that he did not immediately notify then-Superintendent John Doherty upon discovering the unredacted information contained in the emails, “the committee of the whole did not conclude in respect to any ethical or policy violations.” Wise acknowledged that the committee did note that Brandt should have informed Doherty that there was an accidental release of confidential student record information in his capacity as a School Committee member.
Wise also stated that while the committee is “saddened and apologetic” about the situation, according to the Reading Home Rule Charter, [the School Committee] does not have the authority to remove a member.
Wise concluded by affirming that moving forward, all public records requests will be handled by the records access officer, the committee will receive additional ethics training, and that there will be a review of all relevant policies.
Parent Christopher Haley shared with the committee that he had been a supporter of Brandt’s in the recent election and that it was understandable that Brandt did not have time to review the more than 1,496 pages of material that had been released through the public records request. He also declared that personally identifiable information regarding [his daughter’s] medical record was on page one of the materials, implying that Brandt should have realized what had occurred and reported it to Doherty immediately.
“You still have the opportunity, Mr. Brandt, to do the right thing. You are not the victim; we are, our families are.” Haley stated. “You know what you did and did not do. You should do the right thing and step down.” Haley concluded.
Parent Alicia Williams agreed, “The school district has failed [my son], and now the School Committee has failed him.” Williams stated. Williams also questioned Wise about policies with no consequences. “What is the point of policies if they are not enforceable?” Williams questioned. Wise responded, reiterating that Massachusetts General Law and the Reading Home Rule Charter do not allow the committee to remove a member.
In other business, new Superintendent of Schools Thomas Milaschewski presented his entry plan to the committee. In the plan, he emphasized his desire to meet with as many parents, students, staff, and other stakeholders as possible in the coming months. He also plans to spend time getting to know the character of each school. “I will be in the schools consistently,” Milaschewski promised, even suggesting he may engage in a game or two of kickball with students.
Milaschewski then outlined three areas “you can count on” in his taking over the district. The first is the promise of a collaborative process; the second is that the ultimate goal for all students is excellence, and the third is a focus on equity in the district. School Committee Erin Gaffen expressed approval for the plan, “It is reflective of what our schools need right now.” Gaffen opined.
Milaschewski will also participate in a three-year-long induction program for new superintendents sponsored by the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents.
By a vote of 6-0, the committee approved Milaschewski’s search process plan for a new Director of Finance. The committee voted 6-0 to appoint Milaschewski to the SEEM Collaborative Board of Directors and voted 6-0 to appoint Milaschewski as Reading’s representative to the North Shore Education Consortium.
The committee also voted 6-0 to perform the first review of the new superintendent after his first year, with the formative review in February 2022 and a summative review in June 2022. School Committee members Chuck Robinson and Carla Nazzaro preferred an “election cycle” review process. Still, they conceded that allowing Milaschewski a full year before his first review was the correct path. Gaffen added that she strongly dislikes the election cycle review system. The timetable for committee review of the superintendent may be discussed and adjusted in the future.
The committee also approved a new brochure, developed plans to participate in the Fall Street Faire, and declared some materials, including foreign language curriculum dated 1975, as surplus. All these were by a vote of 6-0.
The School Committee adjourned at 9:20 pm.