Curtin mediating between parents' group and New London school administration

New London — The Board of Education on Thursday night heard more about a dispute between the city’s school administration and an independent group of parent advocates, and what steps may be taken to reconcile the spat.

The issue flared up last week when the New London Parent Advocates (NLPA) accused Superintendent Nicholas A. Fischer of using “intimidation tactics to silence families” by attending a meeting at which the group planned to discuss school disciplinary policies and state-provided statistics on student arrest, suspension and expulsion rates.

Board President Margaret Mary Curtin said Thursday she had talked to Fischer and leaders from NLPA and both sides agreed to talk through their differences.

“I’d like to see if we could get the parents together again and we could meet with the superintendent,” Curtin said, “so that we can find out what the problems are and solve them.”

In a press release and unsigned open letter last week, NLPA said that during its March 19 meeting, “where parents, students, and community members came together to share their experiences in a safe, confidential environment, free from judgment and blame, Dr. Fischer and seven administrators, including high school and middle school principals, showed up and refused to leave even after the organizers asked them to do so.”

The school system responded in an unsigned letter, saying, “When school administration became aware that a topic directly related to our efforts to lower student arrest rates, reduce in- and out-of-school suspensions and recommendations for expulsion, was the focus of the (NLPA) meeting, we felt obligated to be a part of the dialogue.”

NLPA member Mongi Dhaouadi said Fischer’s presence at the meeting “might intimidate some parents and prevent them from sharing their stories,” and that “Dr. Fischer’s presence deterred all but one parent from participating.”

The letter said administrators were “shocked by the unequivocal message that we did not belong in this public forum” and was surprised by the request that administrators leave.

“Our intention in attending the meeting was to listen actively to the concerns of our families and we were disappointed that in a public meeting, we were asked to leave and told not to speak,” the school district administration wrote in its letter.

Dhaouadi said that a few days before the meeting, another NLPA member had told the public schools’ communications manager, Julianne Hanckel, that district administrators would not be welcome at the meeting. In its letter, the administration denied that any such communication occurred.

In addition to apparently agreeing to a meeting with the NLPA leadership, the school administration accepted NLPA’s invitation to attend a meeting on the disciplinary policies on April 23.

“While we were disappointed with this one event, we are dedicated to this conversation,” the administration wrote in its letter.

c.young@theday.com

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