Charter School Trustee: ‘We understand the anxiety and uncertainty this might create’

Head of School Peter Cohen at Marblehead Community Public Charter School has been suspended after a misconduct allegation by a staff member. The school’s Board of Trustees has launched an internal investigation. Board President Tim Wadlow has a message for anxious parents.

MCCPS Head of School Peter Cohen has been suspended with pay.

“We understand that they’re concerned —  and I am a parent,” Wadlow told the Marblehead Current. “I’ve been in the school the last few days and I’ve seen a tremendous team effort from the teachers and staff to do what they’ve always done, which is to make Charter special. They are inspired to keep things going.”

Assistant Head of School Stephanie Brant will assume Cohen’s responsibilities during his paid suspension.

Wadlow declined to discuss details of the allegation, except to emphasize that it involved Cohen and a staff member, and that “no students were directly involved.”

Cohen became Charter’s Head of School in 2019, after working as a principal in Nantucket and Westford. MCCPS, at 17 Lime St., opened in 1995 and serves about 215 children in grades 4-8. 

At a Board meeting Tuesday evening, several parents expressed concern about the allegation and the way the school is handling communication.

“Why do you tell the community about the allegation and the investigation without any specifics?” asked one mother. “It may have to do with allaying the fears of people, but I think at this moment it has kind of lit them. And so we’re all left with speculation with respect to the wording. I have an eighth grader. I have a fifth grader. I feel like the school needs to address it with them because they need to feel like they’re in a safe space.”

Charter psychologist Melissa DeLeo tried to assure parents that their children are in good hands.

“I just want to make sure that all the parents on this call know that their kids will be supported and they will be taken care of. I have the utmost faith in my colleagues. They are hardworking, amazing teachers. And we’re going to do everything that we can to continue to have a safe and happy and healthy learning environment for your kids.”

School counselor Sarah Biltcliffe added: “I’m more than happy to remind the children that every single adult in this building cares about them and that school is safe. And we want them to feel safe. So if kids have questions, encourage them to come see me and we can kind of talk through their concerns.”

The school recently sent out acceptance letters for the 2023-2024 academic year to prospective families.

“To new parents, we understand the anxiety and uncertainty that this might create,” Wadlow said. “While the timing isn’t great, we’re doing the best we can to support the school. We hope to wrap this up as soon as we can.”

The investigation is being handled by three members of the Charter Board: Paul Baker and Ian Hunt, whose children are MCCPS alumni, and current MCCPS parent Lindsay Smith.

Asked whether the staff person in question filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, Wadlow declined to comment.

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Editor Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter.

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