Students, METCO parents share views on BLM banner

The recent removal, and return several days later, of the Black Lives Matter banner at Marblehead High School prompted another wave of impassioned comments from parents, community leaders and students at a School Committee meeting on Nov. 2. Many referenced a Marblehead mother quoted on a local media website confessing to removing the flag. 

The Current obstained school surveillance video of the woman removing the banner.

“My son is not going to feel safe; he is not going to feel welcome,” said Tinieya Searcy, whose son attends the high school. “That parent [who took down the banner], she should have to pay for that. Someone there needs to say, ‘No, we’re not doing that.’” 

“It’s very uncomfortable for me,” she added, wiping tears away from her eyes.

Four MHS students spoke about a letter they had written to the School Committee expressing “disappointment” that a recent discussion on a flag policy was held during school hours when students could not attend.

“We are concerned that the removal of existing flags will make students feel they aren’t valued at Marblehead High School,” said one.

“As members of Team Harmony, we care deeply about ensuring that students and staff feel welcome and seen,” said Paige Fletcher. “These flags signify that our school is a safe place where students can feel included and respected. The removal of these flags will make students feel they are not welcome or valued.”

METCO mother Nikkia Bell also spoke.

“Our kids already feel like they’re not welcome in your town,” she said. “It’s just like a slap in our face. And the disrespect that the community hasn’t done anything like ban that parent… it’s like wow.”

Over Zoom, resident Chris Bruell asked how a parent could enter the school to remove the banner and whether that presented a safety concern. He asked if the woman’s right to enter MHS will be revoked.

Cindy Tower Loewen added, “A parent was able to go into the building and take the flag down. There is something not okay with that. I may or may not agree with certain things, but for me to go into the school and do something like that is not acceptable. There should be some follow up.”

Vaping report

The School Committee heard an update on vaping in Marblehead schools.

The committee heard from MHS Principal Michele Carlson, Veterans Principal Matt Fox and social worker Gina Hart about vaping in the schools.

Hart reported that a recent survey showed 34% of Marblehead High School students have tried nicotine, and 20% reported using marijuana products.

Carlson said there are eight vaping detectors in bathrooms at the high school. When they are set off, administrators receive a text message and email, and someone goes into the bathroom to investigate.

Faculty are also monitoring bathrooms throughout the day. 

Asked about how widespread a problem vaping is at the high school, Carlson answered, “I see the detectors going off, yes, but not all the time. Sometimes it’s students using hairspray, too.”

Carlson explained,  “When we do catch somebody, we have a diversion program. The goal is to educate them.”

Student offenders are offered the option of taking the iDecide diversion program and avoid discipline. The program, which Hart facilitates, teaches about teen brain development, addiction, risk factors, drug effects, triggers for use and more.

If students are repeat offenders, there is a “progressive discipline approach,” according to Fox and Carlson. They both emphasized that education is the priority.

Public records concerns

Dozens of Marblehead teachers attended the School Committee to complain about an Oct. 19 public records request sent to acting Superintendent Michelle Cresta. The request, filed by the Current, was prompted by a comment by School Committee Chair Sarah Fox that there had been an “increase in complaints against members of our school community.”

The Current’s record request read as follows:

“School Committee Chair Sarah Fox mentioned in a public meeting on 10/19 that the district has received several complaints against people in the ‘school community’ since the publication of a report in July. Please forward me any emails, texts and documents pertaining to complaints made against anyone in the school community (teachers, administrators, coaches, tutors, paras, lunch aids etc) since July.”

Marblehead Educators Association co-chair Jonathan Heller spoke at the meeting. 

“Morale is at an all-time low,” he said. “Educators are contemplating career changes, considering leaving the district or exploring the option of an early retirement. We are subjected to hostility on social media and in the local press. This leads to a toxic environment that impacts on educators.”

The Current has filed 13 public records records in two years. Ten of those related to the controversial ouster of former superintendent John Buckey and led to the release of public documents that helped shed light on why the School Committee wanted Buckey to leave.

One request related to a bullying report mentioned by Fox in a meeting and another request had to do with parent complaints about DEI work in the schools.

Leftover cash

Cresta delivered a financial wrap-up of FY 2023, reporting a $1.3 million surplus. Of that, the district spent $615,851 on one-time costs like replacing equipment, security camera upgrades and furniture. Another $539,000 was spent to prepay out-of-district tuitions.

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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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