Wakefield school board caught up in controversy
Private Facebook message release provokes criticism of board chairman
March 31, 2011WAKEFIELD — On March 3 Wakefield School Board Chair Janet Gagnon sent a private message through her Facebook account to five "friends" to dispel a rumor she had heard that day at Paul School. At least one of those friends printed out her message and distributed it at the school soon thereafter.
By the time of the next Wakefield School Board meeting on March 16, Gagnon faced a room full of angry parents, teachers and former board members.
In the private message which all of those attending the meeting had read, Gagnon had written that "I don't talk to any of you looking for 'information' nor would I share our conversations with others. I have never felt as though you come to me or I go to you about school issues…I respect all of you as friends. I DO NOT use my friends nor do I 'rat them out'. In all honesty, I don't know how all of you manage to keep going in that school…I'm sorry if you have had to wonder if I've talked about you, I HAVE NOT, And if you are hearing anything to the contrary, tell them to face me!"
The email was apparently written to recipients who worked at Paul School and included strong language (not quoted here) that expressed anger and frustration with the rumor mill at the school.
Gagnon began the meeting reading a statement regretting that someone had decided to make public a private message sent to only five people, adding that she was "very hurt" by the distribution of the message and that it did not involve the students. "I remain committed to my school board position and will continue to do my job," she concluded.
In the public input session that followed resident Charlie Edwards read parts of the email aloud and said he was upset because "Every one of these people is afraid to speak up because they will lose their job."
Gagnon responded that she did not have the power to fire anyone and that, despite her frustrations, she asserted "I want to do this. This is being twisted to take away from my four and a half years on the board."
Former board member Bonnie Cyr asked who reprimands the chairman and stated "People are unhappy with the situation," adding "My problem is that there is a big loss of respect for you."
Gagnon responded that she had learned her lesson and taken the five people off of her Facebook account, adding "Everything I say can be put on the front page of the Carroll County Independent."
Sandy Ouellette stated that if Gagnon felt so strongly about the school, she should step down.
Jerry O'Connor spoke in Gagnon's defense, pointing out "I've said things when I've been frustrated and said things that I didn't want in the paper." He went on to note that few people have come to school board meetings in the years he has been coming and expressed his opinion that it was unfortunate that the Gagnon message has been passed around "to stir things up."
Board member Judy Nason also spoke in Gagnon's defense, saying "I have seen her work countless hours on the board. Now we are criticizing her for one thing she said…This is a private Facebook message to five people. One of those people chose to bring the message into the school. You are not upset about the person making the copies and spreading them around."
Principal Tricia Moser tried to put the matter in perspective, saying that teachers told her that there had been so many principals in the school that teachers felt the need to go to the superintendent and the school board rather than bring the matter to the principal and work the problem out at that level. She pointed out that she had only been at the school for a year and that it takes time to build trust. She has been stressing to staff the need to come first to her or Assistant Principal Doug Perley before going to the superintendent or the school board.
Superintendent Gail Kushner stated that as she saw it there was no violation of the oath of office by Gagnon and no breach of confidentiality. "I suggest we get back to our business…We've heard what Jan said and what you've said. It is an unfortunate incident."
Edwards asked Gagnon if she "still feels this way about the school?"
Gagnon responded, "I am still sitting here and still want to do my job. I am not angry with you, with the teachers, students or administration."