Friday, August 16, 2013

An Open Letter to the Board of Education of the Wynantskill Union Free School District

An Open Letter to the Board of Education of the Wynantskill Union Free School District

I did not sign up to speak at last night’s Board meeting, because I didn’t think that I had anything important to say. I have been relatively satisfied with the way that things have been unfolding, and I was optimistic that we had all decided to work together to move forward, and to repair the damage that has been done to our small community.

However, after listening to some of the comments at last night’s meeting, I realized that I did have some thoughts that I wanted to share, and I realized that those thoughts could not wait until the next Board meeting.

First let me begin by saying Thank You. Thank you to the members of the Board who opened their minds, and their ears, and their hearts, and who created a safe place for teachers and parents and community members to share our concerns. I appreciate the sacrifices that the Board members have made, and the time that they have all taken away from their families in order to meet the needs of our community. These sacrifices have not gone unnoticed, and they are much appreciated.

Second, I would like to address an issue that was raised at last night’s Board meeting, an issue which has been raised at previous meetings, and also in statements that have been made to the public. The issue pertains to the allegations that the teachers did not come forward with their concerns until they decided to “go public,” and that they brought their concerns to the media rather than bringing them to the members of the Board.

As I sat last night and listened to Board members talking about the conversations that they are now having with parents and teachers and community members, and as I listened to talk of the teachers not raising those concerns in the past, I asked myself when this change had taken place. When did people start feeling comfortable sharing their concerns with the Board members? To me, the answer seems clear: it happened when the teachers banded together, and after they went public with their concerns.

Several people have criticized this move by the teachers, saying that they have caused embarrassment to our school, that they should have gone through different channels, that they should have come forward sooner, and that they are guilty of trying to sway public opinion so that they can settle their teacher contracts. To those who would criticize the actions of the teachers, I would ask you to take a moment, think, and ask yourself this: why would these teachers feel the need to come together in this way, and why would they do so in such a public fashion?

One possible explanation is that our teachers are strong, and that they are optimistic. Maybe they believed that they had suffered through situations that were as bad, if not worse, than this one, and they had survived, so they would survive this as well. Maybe they believed that things would change, if only they waited long enough. Maybe they decided to focus on the needs of their students, while ignoring their own needs. Given my experiences with these teachers, I would say that any of those scenarios would be entirely possible.

However, let’s also consider a darker possibility, one that includes threats, intimidation, and the fear of retaliation. Is it not possible that our teachers were not unwilling, but rather unable to come forward, because they feared what would happen to them if they did? Is it not possible that the teachers only felt comfortable coming forward when they knew that they would be doing so as a united front? Is it not possible that the reason they went to the media with their concerns, rather than coming to individual Board members, was that they did not know what would happen to them if they only shared their concerns privately?

As a mandated reporter, I am afforded the protection of anonymity when I make a report of alleged abuse or neglect. This anonymity is designed, in part, to preserve the healthy working relationship between mandated reporters and their clients. However, it is also designed to protect the reporters from potential retaliation by an angry parent. Although not all mandated reporters choose to exercise their right to remain anonymous, the option exists, for the protection of the reporter, and also to allow the reporter and the accused to continue to work together without hostility and awkwardness.

As embarrassing as these past few months of media attention have been for our school district, the public airing of these grievances and concerns has provided a veil of protection for our teachers, and also for parents and community members who had concerns about how they and their children were being treated under the most recent administration. Teachers are now able to engage in an open and honest dialogue with Board members, and change has occurred.

It is unfortunate that it had to come to this. However, in a sense, I’m glad that it did. This situation has created an opportunity for our school district to come together, and it has created an opportunity for us to examine our practices, our policies, and our procedures, to insure that we are providing our children with the best possible education in the best possible environment.

I am looking forward to working with respected educators Michael Marcelle and Lee Bordick. I hope that, through our work with these individuals, we can examine whether or not our District has had an “open door policy,” and whether or not there are protections that can be put into place to allow our teachers, parents, and community members to come forward with any concerns that they might have, without fear of retaliation, and without fear that the concerns will be dismissed without a thorough investigation.

I would like to thank the teachers and the parents who paved the way, and who created the opportunity for this open dialogue and change of environment to occur. Your courage, your tenacity, and your unwavering commitment to the children in our school district is both admirable and unforgettable.

I would like to thank the Board members who have been open to having these conversations, and who have expressed their willingness to continue to listen and to share information. I’m glad that you chose to do what you are doing, I recognize that it was a choice, and I thank you for making that choice.

Finally, I would like to thank the media, both social and commercial, without whom none of this would have been possible. Thank you for maintaining a forum that allows for freedom of speech, and that allows for the sharing of information and for the building of a community. Thank you for maintaining a largely unbiased position throughout these proceedings, and thank you for not judging our school district based on the actions of a few of its members.

And thank you to everyone else for allowing me to share these thoughts. I look forward to continuing to work with all of you, as our community moves forward toward healing together.

Michelle Marte


  1. Well said Michelle. I second your statement.
    Also parent, Danielle Montagna

  2. Excellent points Michelle. Please consider running for the seat on the Board that will be up for election in the Spring. We need well spoken, level headed, educated people like you making decisions for our school.