After listening to six people speak in support of acting Superintendent Michelle Cresta and her Oct. 12 email stating solidarity with “Israel and Jewish people around the world,” the School Committee voted unanimously that Cresta committed no wrongdoing.
“I stand with Michelle Cresta and her statement,” said School Committee Chair Sarah Fox at the start of the Oct. 19 meeting.
A mother of two students in Marblehead schools had filed a complaint against Cresta for her email, which did not mention the deaths of Palestinian civilians.
In a letter to the editor, Kristi Warab wrote, “I would like to see an email from the school that stands with the right of every race and group of people and their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — not just one group of people.”
She said her children, who are Muslim, were facing bullying in school.
At least one other Marblehead parent contacted the School Committee criticizing Cresta’s email.
“I urge you to take a nuanced approach to this subject. Your words, which show no regard for the loss of Palestinian life, are deeply hurtful to those in this community who value all life equally,” the mother wrote in an email to the School Committee shared with the Current but not mentioned in the meeting.
The woman continued, “Your email assumed that no one in our school community had friends, family or loved ones facing death and displacement in Gaza right now. This assumption alone shows a bias that has no place in school leadership. At the very least, you should apologize for your insensitive statement.”
Support for Israel, Cresta
At the meeting, Yael Magen, an Israeli American, asked for 10 seconds of silence before speaking during public comment.
“The Jewish people have not lost so many people in one day, in seven hours, since the Holocaust,” he said. “My grandmother was in Auschwitz.
“I was waiting, I was waiting for Marblehead [schools to send a message], and finally it came on Thursday, and I was so happy,” she continued. “Thank you. It made us feel safe, seen.”
Her husband, Asaf, said, “I’m sorry, guys. There is no terror coming from Israel. There just isn’t. I sympathize with the Palestinian suffering. There is no moral equivalency. I feel threatened. I feel really stressed.”
Avery Kaplowitch, who graduated from MHS in 2018, Zoomed into the meeting and addressed Cresta.
“Your email went a very, very long way” in making the Jewish community feel safer, Kaplowitch said.
Cresta spoke in her own defense.
“As the acting superintendent and a mother of two, I stand behind my statement of Thursday, Oct. 12,” she said. “I do not believe it is the place of a school administrator to further opine on a complex geopolitical situation.”
‘Weaponization’ of process
Fox said she believed Warab’s complaint was a result of the “weaponization” of the process for reporting bullying. She referenced the Current’s publication of a public, redacted report on the results of a bullying investigation involving a former MHS soccer coach.
Fox said that, since attention had been brought to the report, there had been an “increase in complaints against members of our school community. It appears individuals are using the published report as a road map to punish others who they disagree with.”
Fox did not elaborate on the new bullying complaints.
Interim superintendent contract approved
Later in the meeting, the School Committee voted unanimously to approve a contract for new interim Superintendent Theresa McGuinness, who will start on Nov. 6. Her salary is listed as $190,000 a year, pro-rated to her start date. The contract runs through June 30, 2024. McGuinness says she would like to be named permanent superintendent.
The supervisor of records in the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s Office issued a determination letter Oct. 17 regarding the text messages related to Buckey’s departure Cresta and several School Committee members said were irretrievable after being inadvertently deleted.
The state has ordered the district to “institute safeguards to ensure that all records are retained in accordance with both applicable law as well as the retention schedules promulgated by this office.”
Supervisor of Records Manza Arthur advised the town to review materials related to records retention online.
Arthur added, “Public records must be maintained and kept in a manner that allows access by the general public, as they are subject to mandatory disclosure upon request. Training workshops on records management are conducted upon request.”
In its appeal, the Current had asked the supervisor to require the district to provide documentation of its efforts to retrieve the texts. Arthur did not address this request in the determination letter, writing, “Accordingly, whereas the requested records no longer exist, I will consider this appeal closed.”
Open Meeting Law violation appeal
Meanwhile, Marblehead resident Cathyann Swindlehurst has filed an appeal of her open meeting law complaint against the School Committee.
“I wanted to let you and the School Committee know that I have asked for the AG to review the Open Meeting Law complaint I filed on July 31, 2023,” Swindlehurst wrote in an email to Fox. “I received confirmation this morning that they have received my request and assigned it to an attorney for investigation.”
After complaint, committee gives acting super unanimous support In a letter to Attorney General Andrea Campbell’s office, Swindlehurst wrote, “The question pertains to the School Committee’s decision-making process related to the superintendent’s employment contract. As I stated in the original complaint, I believe the process the committee engaged in when deciding to consider terminating the superintendent, is in conflict with the principles of transparency and public engagement that the OML seeks to uphold.