Last month, the Methuen School Committee went into executive session (a private meeting excluding the public) for the purpose of ambushing School Committee Member Jana DiNatale.
Her offense? She dared to ask for public input on an internet survey about Methuen residency, and she did so without their permission or input.
First, the school committee violated the Open Meeting Law by not posting the executive session meeting 48 hours in advance as required by law.
Secondly, the superintendent publicly said the purpose of the unscheduled executive session was for “litigation”.
Yet, no litigation was discussed.
Adding insult to injury, none of the school board members we talked to could even remember what “litigation” was supposed to be discussed that night.
Apparently, the committee “never got to it” because they were too busy attacking DiNatale for the outrageous act of listing herself as a school committee member on a public survey.
It is hard to fathom the gall of elected officials who think they have, or should have, any right as a body to criticize the individual actions of a duly elected official for getting input from the public.
It’s hard to understand how reasonably decent people could take advantage of their elected office, use public resources to air political grievances, and do so hidden from public view.
But that’s what they did, no matter how they try to candy coat it with seemingly legitimate concerns about the way the survey was taken or published.
How dare they?
Jana DiNatale does not work for the school committee, and she sure as hell does not work for the superintendent. She works for the voters who put her there. She has every right to conduct any survey she wants, publish it however she wants, and she doesn’t need the permission or input of anyone.
If members of the school committee have a complaint, or receive a complaint, about the actions of a fellow board member, they should have the testicular fortitude to pick up the phone and express their concerns one on one, as individuals and politicians … not as an elected body tasked with the complicated role of educating Methuen’s children.
While not meeting as a board, school committee members have no power and act as private individuals in the community. They do not lose their first amendment right of free speech or free association because they are elected to a board.
If the majority of the Methuen School Committee truly believed that DiNatale’s actions were so damaging to the children of Methuen that they needed to address it as a body, they should have placed it on the agenda properly, given DiNatale notice, and addressed the issue in full public view.
Instead, they secretly ambushed her under the pretense of a “litigation” discussion.
For far too long the Methuen School Committee has operated as if it works for Superintendent Scannell and her administration, instead of the other way around.
It is laziness and complicity, and the Methuen School Committee needs to wake up. Their focus should be their own actions and inactions, instead of pointing fingers and criticizing others.
To be clear, we believe Jana DiNatale was ambushed because her survey bubbled up controversy over the issue of Methuen residency for public school students.
The insiders and rubber stampers don’t like that kind of talk
It means they have to do work. It means controversy. It means bad press. It means uncertainty at election time. It means unpleasant meetings that last long. It makes rubber stamping harder because more people are watching the meetings. It means somebody has to be silenced.
The Methuen School Committee owes a public apology to School Committee Member Jana DiNatale. They also owe an apology to the voters of Methuen.
While we recognize some of the hard work done by the Superintendent and some members of the school committee, we are not fooled about what happened on the night of January 23rd.
It cannot happen again.
And to make sure it does not happen again, The Valley Patriot has filed an official complaint with Attorney General Maura Healey’s office.