School Committee, acting super ordered to try to retrieve deleted texts

The Secretary of the Commonwealth’s Office has given the school district 10 days to seek to retrieve text messages initially reported as having been deleted in response to a public records request from the Marblehead Current

Manza Arthur, the supervisor of records in the secretary’s office, wrote in a letter dated Sept. 19 to the schools’ records access officer, Lisa Dimier, that it was Arthur’s “understanding” that “the School intends on providing a further response to [the Current’s Leigh] Blander to address her records request.”

“Accordingly, the School is ordered to provide Ms. Blander with said response in a manner consistent with the Public Records Law and its Regulations within 10 business days,” Arthur wrote, requiring that the schools provide a copy of any such response to the secretary’s office as well.

Clockwise from top left: Acting Superintendent Michelle Cresta, School Committee Chair Sarah Fox, School Committee member Alison Taylor and School Committee member Jenn Schaeffner COURTESY PHOTOS

In response, the district’s lawyer, Colby Brunt, sent an email, also dated Sept. 19, to attorney Barbara Durgin, an assistant director in the Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth, who is handling the Current’s appeal, and to whom Brunt had spoken the previous Friday.

Brunt reported that the “district has reached out to the staff member [Michelle Cresta] and the committee members regarding the deleted text messages and asked that they contact their providers to see if the deleted text messages can be retrieved.”

Brunt added, “I am awaiting further information from the individuals as to whether the cell providers can produce the messages.”

In response to a public records request by the Current in August, the district handed over more than 275 pages of emails and texts, but some were missing.

“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 Dimier in an email to the Current at the time. The response continued, “Text messages from Sarah Fox to Alison Taylor; those messages were lost due to a technical error.”

Fox told the Current that the “technical error” was that her child accidentally deleted the contact info for Alison Taylor, which she believes may have deleted the texts.

Taylor did not respond to questions about whether the messages appeared on her phone, and if they did, why she didn’t report them.

“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,” Brunt told the Current last month.

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.”

There is still no definitive public answer as to why the School Committee sought to oust Buckey, although executive session minutes hint that it may have had to do with a bullying investigation into a Marblehead High coach. That investigation did not implicate, or even mention, Buckey, however.

This is a developing story. Stay with the Current for new details.

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