A Long, Hot Summer in Exeter, NH as Issues Pile Up for SAU-16
The woman who brought attention to the contact tracing process at the Exeter High School prom can also be part of the solution as the state opens up an investigation into "multiple complaints" about certain school events.
It was State Rep. Melissa Litchfield (R-District 11) who brought attention to unvaccinated students being marked with a Sharpie during the prom held under a tent at the school on June 4 by posting about it on her Facebook page asking for parental input after she said there was no response from the administration to her questions.
But it's also SAU 16 Region Cooperative School Board member Melissa Litchfield who will help figure out how that method of contact tracing was decided upon.
In a third statement on the matter issued Thursday, the district said that all planning for the prom, as with other district events, was done without input from the administration.
"While everyone involved in planning the event had the best intentions to provide a fun, safe event for the students, the contact tracing protocol that was put in place could and should have been accomplished in a different manner. There was never an intent to simulate or reprise methods that have caused grief and painful memories, and we apologize for any emotions that this process may have evoked," the statement read.
At the board's meeting on Tuesday night, Superintendent David Ryan said that an audit is underway into the process. He admitted it was a poor choice made with the good intention of making sure everyone could safely attend the prom.
"One thing we can state is that everybody did this with the very best intentions to provide an event at the end of a year that was really trying for kids. In hindsight, everybody that we've talked to have all said the same thing 'Yeah, that was really not a good look at all.' That was something that we're going to reconsider. We're never going to do that again,'" Ryan said.
Hard To Say I'm Sorry
His statement fell short of what Litchfield was looking for and she will have to await the result of the audit.
"If they were going to apologize they had two meetings back-to-back with the public there. Wouldn't that be the time to apologize? I don't know if they're equating an apology with an admission of guilt but I think what the public is looking for is an acknowledgment of 'We probably could have handled it better. We're sorry. We won't do it again,'" Litchfield told Seacoast Current, stressing that she was not speaking for the rest of the board.
Ryan also clarified that the reason Litchfield did not get an immediate answer about the prom from him was because district protocol calls for board members to bring issues first to a school principal.
During the meeting, Litchfield said she understands the procedure but said for her it comes down to the administration admitting they were wrong.
Many parents also addressed the board during the meeting looking for answers about how contact tracing was done at the prom.
"You broke the trust between the parents and the school. You broke it and that's never gonna come back. All you gotta go and that starts with you Ryan. You're gonna go, there's no excuse," parent James Goodwin told the board.
Prom Was the Icing on the Cake
Stratham State Rep. Patrick Abrami (R-District 19) also spoke during the public comment portion of Tuesday's meeting. Abrami said he received more email about the prom, a student being prohibited from wearing a 'Thin Blue Line' T-shirt, other district issues and urged board members to listen.
"Please listen to what all these folks have to say because there were a lot of good arguments last night on a lot of the issues. The issues were quite diverse from lack of transparency, to the prom, to critical race theory, to the middle school Blue Line flag incident, to the school reopening how that was handled, to the overwhelming desire of those there last night to have children not wearing masks," Abrami said.
Litchfield said it was fourteen months worth of frustration parents have with the district that boiled over at the meetings. One of those frustrations was the district remaining remote until Gov. Chris Sununu order all districts back to live instruction on April 19.
An appeal by Ryan to delay its implementation was turned down by the state.
"I think the prom was the icing on the cake," Litchfield said.
Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut told WMUR TV that his office and the Attorney General's office have received a large number of complaints about SAU 16 and will look into them. Edelblut would not disclose the nature of the complaints.
Region School Board President Helen Joyce and Chair Travis Thompson on Friday acknowledged the investigation in a statement.
"We have been assured that this does not involve any criminal investigation. We have offered our full cooperation and look forward to bringing this matter to a prompt resolution," Joyce and Thompson said in their statement.