Two long-term members of the Harwood Union School Board resigned in August over issues with how two groups of students were treated following two incidences of “Occupy Harwood” that occurred this spring.
The two board members who resigned are Freddie Graves, Fayston, and Mike LaRock, Waterbury. They have served eight and nine years, respectively, on the board.
The Valley Reporter contacted Chris Koliba, Harwood Union Board chair, Washington West Supervisory Union superintendent Brigid Scheffert and Harwood co-principals Lisa Atwood and Amy Rex this week with questions about the resignations and whether they stemmed from two incidents this summer when students were caught on school grounds at night.
The Occupy Harwood issues took place on two consecutive nights shortly before graduation when two groups of students were on school grounds and in the school.
The first group of students were discovered when they tripped an alarm. Three were charged with misdemeanors and two with burglary felony. After administration intervention with the Vermont State Police and the Waterbury Police, charges were dropped. The students were given detentions, a fine and community service.
The next night, a second group of students pitched tents on the school lawn. Several students broke into the school on that night or in the early morning, used the bathrooms, moved desks, but did not do damage, according to the administration. According to the administration, the second group of students was never identified and hence they were not punished.
But there are some inconsistencies that led to The Valley Reporter’s initial questions about how the second set of students had been discovered and why they were not punished like the group from the first night.
When asked how HU administrators knew the second group of kids had entered the school, the administration, school board and superintendent of schools issued a press release that stated:
“On a live feed video tape viewed by maintenance staff, several figures could be discerned, but particular features of the students could not be readily identified. The board never received any absolute information as to who the students were that entered the building.
“Questions were raised about the procedures that were used by the school administration to review the video tapes and to conduct a thorough investigation into the perpetrators of the second break in. The school administration investigated the incident by interviewing several students. The facilities and maintenance staff did not review the surveillance camera tapes after the fact because students could not be identified in the live feed they had already reviewed, and because no property was damaged or taken,” the board/administration wrote in a press release.
However, the resigning board members disagreed with that statement that the students were not readily identifiable and also disagreed with the administration/board position that the school’s surveillance tapes had not been reviewed and disagreed as to whether individual students were identifiable.
At issue, and a question that no one would answer, is how did the second group of kids get discovered and who from the school went there and told them to leave and how could that person not recognize any of the students?
In response to that question, Scheffert responded, “I sent you as much as I could in the press release. At no time were students found in the building by anyone. No students were ever identified as having broken into the building by anyone. When HUHS staff and administration arrived all the remaining campers were told to pick up their gear and leave and they did.”
Asked which staff or administrators went there to get the students to leave, Scheffert did not answer.
The issue of how the two groups of students were handled was discussed at a board meeting a week after the two incidences and one of the two resigning board members raised the question of whether the identities of the second group of students had been discovered. The answer that board member received was that no students were caught.
“No objections to the decisions made were raised at that time. Over the summer, the handling of the matter of this second break-in and the decision not to punish the students who camped out on the lawn became the central subject of disagreement,” the board wrote in its press release this week.
At the August 15 meeting of the Harwood Union School Board, the issue was again discussed at length and in executive session, leading to the resignation of Graves and LaRock.
In her August 18 letter of resignation to the board, Graves wrote:
“I realized after Wednesday night’s meeting there were more inconsistencies, half truths and vagaries that we were expected to accept as truth. That is not acceptable to me. I am unable to continue working on this board when I think that our role has become symbolic and irrelevant at best and a tool to divert accountability at worst.”
The press release from the board and administration points out that many of the details around the two Occupy Harwood incidents are confidential because they involve student discipline. The release also notes that they are confidential because they involve matters of personnel, but it is not clear how personnel are involved and/or protected in this instance.
The board and administration also praised LaRock and Graves for their service to the community as well.
“Readers will likely have heard about the resignation of Mike LaRock and Freddie Graves from the Harwood School Board, who have served on the Harwood Board for nine and eight years, respectively. Like all responsible board members, they provided countless hours of service for the betterment of Harwood students and area taxpayers. They deserve our communities’ thanks for their years of service,” the board wrote in its press release.