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Editorial expresses hope Fairhaven has had a wakeup call

OUR VIEW: Fairhaven schools need culture shift
April 13, 2008 6:00 AM
SouthCoast Today (Mass.)

Of all the changes last week’s municipal elections brought, Fairhaven’s might have been needed most.

In electing a newcomer to the School Committee, the voters of the community sent a strong message to the leadership of the schools that they disapproved entirely of the disgraceful manner in which the school board, School Superintendent Robert Baldwin and former Principal Jean Cote handled a 2005 hazing incident involving high school football players at a summer camp run by Fairhaven football coaches.

The victim of the hazing and his family went through hell while the perpetrators who literally drove the boy out of school were free to come and go. Further, neither the family nor the public was told what was being done, what punishment — if any — was being handed out, what reforms were being made.

Instead, school officials circled the wagons, went into lockdown mode and ducked questions. It is only fitting that the boy’s family plans to press a lawsuit over the manner in which this entire incident was mishandled. It is only too bad that ordinary citizens will pick up the tab for the eventual lawsuit while the school managers who botched the job and worked like mad to cover it up have not been called to account.

In any case, Fairhaven voters responded the only way they could, by giving challenger Pamela Kuechler a huge victory over longtime incumbent Andrew Tillett.

The only disappointment is that only one newcomer decided to run for School Committee because voters undoubtedly would have elected him or her over incumbent Colin Veitch, who also ran far, far behind Mrs. Kuechler.

We hope Mrs. Kuechler, a Fairhaven High School graduate with two children in the schools, will bring a fresh perspective to the town’s public schools — perhaps by reminding the leadership over there that the “public” schools are the most public of institutions and that it is time to come clean with the community about what is happening there and why.

In the last week, the schools hired a new high school principal to replace Mr. Cote, who had been on leave since the start of the school year and whose removal from the schools’ payroll was only reported last week.

We hope the new principal, Tara Quirk Kohler, who previously worked as a housemaster at New Bedford High School, will practice the kind of openness and accountability that is so foreign to this community’s school management.

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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