More than 275 pages of just-released text messages and emails between School Committee members, attorneys and Acting Superintendent Michelle Cresta show that in the days leading up to former superintendent John Buckey’s departure, the School Committee discussed a bullying investigation of the now-former MHS girls soccer coach and one other parent complaint about administrators. (The released texts and emails can be viewed HERE.)
However, there may be some missing information about what led the committee to move to oust Buckey.
“With respect to the text messages from Michelle Cresta, Alison Taylor and Jennifer Schaeffner; those messages were erased by the users prior to this request,” wrote records access officer Lisa Dimier in an email to the Current. The response continued, “Text messages from Sarah Fox to Alison Taylor; those messages were lost due to a technical error.”
The Current asked for the communications in a public records request and is appealing to the Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth to see the deleted and lost texts.
Fox told the Current that one of her children was playing on her phone and accidentally deleted Taylor’s contact information, which may have then deleted text messages to and from Taylor.
As for her colleagues’ deleted messages, Fox said, “We don’t have a policy on that. We need to establish best practices” by researching how other districts handle communication.
Colby Brunt, an attorney for the schools, told the Current, “I am advising them [School Committee members] that moving forward they should be maintaining any business-related text messages even if those are on their personal devices.”
Just last year, Brunt had given the committee a presentation on the state’s Open Meeting Law and public records as part of the School Committee’s annual retreat on July 19, 2022.
In a summary of the public records law included in the packet for that meeting, Brunt wrote, bolding the first sentence, “A caution about email and text messages: Emails made and received by public officials are subject to disclosure unless one of the statutory exemptions applies. As with any effective communication, content and choice of words in emails must be tailored to the anticipated audience, which could include the general public.”
In the discussion during the meeting, Brunt reiterated, “Text messages — on your own cell phone, too — those can be reachable.”
Soccer family email
Among the documents the School Department released is a July 17 email from a parent of a Marblehead High School girls soccer player. The parent stated that the administration was not responsive enough to complaints about the team’s coach in 2022 and requested an opportunity to tell their story to the School Committee in an executive (private) session.
“I can tell you that there was never a School Committee meeting with any family as a result of an email on July 17 and the underlined soccer investigation,” Brunt said. “I cannot speak to whether any individuals might’ve met with the family.”
A $26,000 outside investigation in the fall of 2022 determined the coach had committed “unintentional bullying” as defined under state law due to poor communication skills.
Text messages between Fox and Schaeffner dating back to June 30, 2023 (just 10 days after Schaeffner’s election and one day after her first meeting), refer to contacting Brunt.
There are also texts between Fox and Schaeffner on July 2 about scheduling an executive session.
“Tom called. Again.” Fox wrote, apparently referring to another school attorney, Tom Delmar. “After reviewing, no exec session for tomorrow. Can update you… Give a call whenever.”
It’s unclear what was going to be on that meeting’s agenda and why Delmar recommended canceling it.
There is another reference in texts between Fox and Schaeffner on July 13 about contacting Brunt.
The School Committee ultimately held executive sessions on July 21 and 31. It then announced a nearly $175,000 separation agreement with Buckey on Aug. 2. Executive session minutes (released after a public records request by the Current) obliquely referred to the athletics coach situation as a reason for Buckey’s departure.
Buckey and his attorney have both said the committee never told them why he was asked to leave.
One other parent complaint
The Current also asked for records of all parent complaints against Buckey.
Dimier explained that a log of such complaints does not exist but that there were two documented in the emails provided to the Current.
Aside from the complaint related to the girls soccer coach, the other was from a parent who emailed in July, upset about her child’s school principal and Buckey.
“We had a terrible experience with several school administrators throughout the 22-23 school year,” the email reads. “When we escalated our concern to the superintendent last December, he responded that he had full trust in the school principal’s decision. My goal is to not have another child and family go through what our child and family went through (and past MPS children come to find out) and to give my child a chance to return to our town school system and have a healthy high school experience, since he is determined to do so.”
Other text and email findings
July 2: In a text exchange between Buckey and School Committee member Meaghan Taylor, Buckey asked if Taylor would be attending an upcoming committee workshop. “I should be able to attend, depending on the time,” Taylor said. Buckey answered, “Wrong answer,” with a laughing emoji.
July 19: In a text exchange between Buckey and Taylor, Buckey wrote, “Mike Long [Buckey’s attorney] is now demanding that I send this letter to the school committee and I just want to make sure that the revisions I have made are ok.” Taylor replied, “OK, I’ll have a quick look and give you a call around 6.”
July 21: Fox texted Schaeffner just before an executive session, “The lunatics are in waiting room too so I’m wondering if I should pause and admit everyone at the same time or at least until I admit Meagan [Taylor] or Colby first so Meagan can’t claim an open meeting violation.” It’s unclear to whom Fox was referring as “lunatics.”
July 26: Fox emailed Cresta asking if Cresta could make her aware of all public records requests the district received moving forward.
“I just don’t want to be caught unprepared on something big like this,” Fox texted after posting a link to a Current story in which the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents criticized the committee.
Fox then went on to reference something that happened at a June 2023 School Committee meeting.
At the request of then-School Committee member Tom Mathers, Buckey compiled a slide listing all the Freedom of Information Act requests the district had received, along with their associated costs to the district. Among those listed was a request for the soccer coach investigation report.
Several others were attributed to Schaeffner, who in addition to serving on the School Committee remains one of the editors of the Marblehead Beacon website.
“John [Buckey] put this all in motion when he put that FOIA list up with intent to hurt Jenn’s electability,” Fox continued.
Cresta replied, “I agree that he should not have done that.”
July 15: Schaeffner texted Fox a Boston Globe article about the conservative group Parents Defending Education trying to shut down programs in Newton and Milton that focused on supporting students of color.
Parents Defending Education also criticized Newton North High School Principal and Marblehead resident Henry Turner for speaking to teachers and students in Marblehead.
Turner, a renowned diversity, equity and inclusion educator, billed the district a reduced “hometown” rate, which was covered by a grant Marblehead accessed through its participation in the METCO program, Buckey said at the time.
As allowed by law, the district provided in its initial response to the Current’s records request a cost estimate of between $575 and $700 to fulfill it, calculated by multiplying the lowest hourly wage of an employee capable of searching for, segregating and redacting the records — $25 per hour — by the time it would take to complete those tasks, between 25 and 30 hours.
The Current was required to pay in advance for the work to be completed.