Parent after parent addressed the Sudbury Public Schools Committee at its Wednesday night meeting at the , expressing their disapproval over a lack of communication from regarding an incident involving a well-known teacher.
Parents complained the school failed to communicate properly with them as to why the teacher, Janice Donahue, had not been present in the Room 15 first-grade classroom since early May. They said they were left to assume that she was simply on sick leave, until social media starting spreading rumors that she had been dismissed during an abuse allegation.
Donahue, 67, lost the position she held for more than 20 years on May 23 following a three-hour meeting with Superintendent Dr. Anne Wilson, over an incident in which another teacher complained about the manner in which Donahue broke up a fight between two young boys who wanted the same seat in a music class. Her supporters have said that Donahue has an excellent reputation and that any allegation that she assaulted a student is preposterous.
"We are very interested in hearing your opinions," Committee Chair Richard Robison said, as he opened the public comment period during the meeting. "However, we are not in a position to make comments about specific situations."
He asked the sizable crowd to "stick with issues and not resort to personal attacks."
It's the first public controversy for Robison since he was named as Committee Chair earlier this month. He repeatedly declined questions about what parents perceived as a breakdown in communication about the Donahue situation.
"I appreciate the frustration," Robison said. "But we are simply not allowed, in any way, shape or form, to comment on personnel issues."
"Your repeated refusal to comment smells like an act of cowardice, and that should be put on the record," Paul Hogan, the parent of two children in Room 15, said. "It's very disturbing."
Hogan and others also complained about having to tell their children why their teacher was missing when they weren't even sure themselves. "If there are 22 children, then there are 22 different stories being told," Hogan said.
Parents mentioned that the teacher is "the third most important person" in a child's life and the unexpected disruption was upsetting.
"Our children are left to get their information on the playground. They want to know where their teacher is. We have received no support from the administration," Molly Gilmartin told the Committee. "It's appalling."
"I don't want to lie to my children, and tell them Mrs. J. just retired. I've had people who moved away to New York call and ask what is going on in Sudbury. I don't like to lie. I think what is going with Mrs. J. is just really stinky," Cindy Simon told the Committee.
"It goes against all the core values of the school. All we were told is that the children are being put first, which is just baloney," Hogan said.
"You have to realize we voted you to represent us, and the town now, a good portion of it, is quite upset. I don't feel like the community is being heard right now. You're not here to represent the superintendent," Bob Beagan told the Committee, to applause from the crowd.
Wilson, a key figure in the controversy, was present at the meeting but said very little. "This is public comment time, and it's time for the public to comment, so I'm respecting the agenda," Wilson said as she declined a question from a parent. Her response was met with boos and audible disapproval from the crowd.
Noyes Principal Annette Doyle, who was not at the meeting, has also not been open about the situation. "I have nothing to say, good luck," she said right before abruptly ending a call from Sudbury Patch editor Robert Fucci seeking information about the case last week.
Parents at the meeting also complained that the first-grade children are coming home with the same book over and over again, and seem to be floundering with their assignments following the abrupt change in teachers at the end of the school year.
"You don't respect us. We're leaving," one parent commented as the public forum ended and the Committee returned to routine business.
Donahue did not attend Wednesday night's meeting and previously declined comment to the media on the advice of her attorneys. Her husband previously denied that she had done anything wrong and said that school officials didn't care for her outspoken nature and were looking for any excuse to remove her from the school.