Editorial: On advice of counsel …

Posted 11/5/21

A week ago, it would have been difficult to imagine the spectacle of three teachers sitting before the school committee, like defendants before the jury, their careers, reputations and incomes …

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Editorial: On advice of counsel …

Posted

A week ago, it would have been difficult to imagine the spectacle of three teachers sitting before the school committee, like defendants before the jury, their careers, reputations and incomes hanging in the balance. Yet there they were last Thursday night, seated beside their lawyer, pleading for mercy from the bench.

They received none.

By a 3-1 vote, the Barrington School Committee dismissed them from their jobs (officially, put on unpaid leave, with dismissal for “insubordination” coming at the end of the year). A week later, the scene still feels surreal.

Though it was a public school committee meeting held in the middle school cafeteria, it had the feel of a high-stakes courtroom. Lawyers on all sides behaved as they would in a trial, and the district was represented by not one, but two attorneys, one of them brought in specifically for his expertise in this arena.

Vaxxers and anti-vaxxers will dump these events into their own cauldrons of passion and anger. Parents will face their own anxieties over teachers removed from classrooms, replaced by unqualified substitutes, with nary an explanation. But what about taxpayers?

Keep in mind, this is the same government agency that waged a nearly-two-year legal battle with a single middle school student, fighting to justify its decision to suspend that boy for three days based on dubious circumstances. They lost the case, and kept fighting. They lost again, and kept fighting.

How much did they spend on that case? No one will ever know. The Barrington Times tried multiple times to get accounting for those legal costs and was repeatedly denied. District lawyers hid behind every protection they could find to keep the legal bills secret.

It seems clear the district is bracing for another lengthy fight. First, they brought in the additional counsel for last week’s meeting. Secondly, they were evasive in public session, unwilling to answer questions from a reporter afterwards, and offering little explanation beyond “health and wellness” of the community. They certainly don’t want to say anything on the record that can be used against them before the Rhode Island Department of Education or Rhode Island Superior Court, both of which are likely.

Still the question remains — why?

Why did one of the most vaccinated communities in all of America have to move this aggressively to dismiss three unvaccinated teachers? Why does Barrington have to be the precedent-setting district for all of Rhode Island? Why do Barrington taxpayers have to pay all the legal bills while the rest of Rhode Island watches and waits?

But don’t expect answers to those questions. Leadership will have very little to say — on advice of counsel, of course.

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Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.