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|Fraser Summoned Before School Committee|
|Written by Administrator|
|Monday, 15 September 2003 13:40|
With questions still lingering from his firmâ€™s investigation into last yearâ€™s student disciplinary policies, school counsel Robert Fraser has been asked to make an appearance at the next school committee meeting to support his position.
The issue was raised at Wednesdayâ€™s school committee meeting following the revelation that Fraser and former DHS principal Wayne Ogden were part of an authoring team for a 2000 textbook.Â This relationship, not divulged by Fraser during the investigation, has caused some on the committee and the public to view this as a possible conflict.
By a 3-2 vote, school committee members approved a motion to invite Fraser to their October 8 meeting to answer questions from the committee, mainly about why Fraser never offered information about the book at previous meetings.
In a telephone interview on Monday, Fraser said he has been contacted by the school committee, but does not share the details of client discussions with the public. Fraser also had nothing to say regarding an appearance at the October meeting.
During the meeting, Chairwoman Carol Love read a three-page statement from Fraser submitted to the school committee in which he reaffirmed that his work on the book in no way compromised his work on the investigation nor the legal opinion expressed by his firm, Stoneman, Chandler and Miller.
Fraserâ€™s stated that attorney Scott Merrill conducted all of the interviews and fact finding for the investigation.Â Fraser said he made this decision because of his prior working relationship with the school department.
â€œStoneman, Chandler and Miller LLP and I owed no duty to inform the complainant, Mr. Doran [who initiated the investigation], of any relationships we might have had with any Duxbury personnel,â€ Fraserâ€™s statement read.Â â€œHe has never been a client of our law firm.Â The Duxbury Public Schools in the persona of the school committee and the staff was and is the firmâ€™s client in this matter.â€
After the completion of the statement, school committee member John Magnarelli said it was the appearance more than an actual conflict of interest that has caused questions.
â€œIf he had been up front about it [at previous meetings], we wouldnâ€™t be here discussing this,â€ said Magnarelli.Â â€œThat is the problem.Â He doesnâ€™t owe anything to Mr. Doran, but he does owe something to us.â€
Magnarelli went on to request Fraser come before the committee to explain why he felt it was unnecessary to mention the literary relationship with Ogden.
After the motion was made to invite Fraser, fellow school committee member Paul Desmond inquired whether it was worth taxpayer money to cover the cost of his attendance at the next meeting when $29,000 was already spent on the investigation.Â Love estimated the cost for Fraserâ€™s attendance at $750.
Magnarelli then amended his invitation, inviting Fraser at no cost.
â€œHe can decide whether to attend or not,â€ said Magnarelli.
The amendment and motion were both approved 3-2, with Love and Neil Johnson voting against both actions.
Also at Wednesdayâ€™s meeting, the school committee voted to seek an opinion from the Massachusetts Department of Education regarding the withdrawal procedure utilized during last yearâ€™s disciplinary actions.
Magnarelli submitted a letter he had prepared before the meeting to the committee written to DOE Commissioner David Driscoll on behalf of the school committee empowering Fraser to pursue a legal opinion to the following question:
â€œIf, after a formal disciplinary hearing where a student is accused of possession of a controlled substance, and before a written decision is sent, is it legal for an administrator to call that family and indicate that unless they withdraw their child from school that day the administrator will issue a letter expelling that student?â€
Magnarelli said he asked Fraser to do this last June, but the group never formally voted to have their attorney request the DOEâ€™s opinion.
After discussion of whether tasking Fraser would cost the committee money or be covered through his retainer, Love presented three options: pay the fee, have the school committee request the opinion from the DOE or have Magnarelli himself make the inquiry.
Magnarelli came prepared with a second letter addressed to Driscoll, making the inquiry on behalf of the committee.
Love said she welcomed the letter but indicated that the DOE does not issue sanctions to schools, but instead works with them on a corrective action plan, a step the school committee has already taken.
â€œIâ€™m not looking for them to come down with a sanction or anything else, I want to know the answer to a question,â€ said Magnarelli.
After a tense debate between Magnarelli and Love over whether this request was made at a past meeting, the committee decided to send the letter by a 3-2 vote.Â Love and Johnson voted against the action.
A pair of parents also weighed in on the issue.Â After the DOE vote, Ann Chandler recognized the committeeâ€™s desire to put the issue behind them, but also said she didnâ€™t want any other parents in the future to go through what the families involved in the withdrawals went through last year.
Additionally, during comments from the public earlier in the night, parent Alison Rich suggested that given recent events, school business manager Mickey McGonagle should inquire about reimbursement from Stoneman, Chandler and Miller for the $29,000 spent on the investigation and the money be applied to their retainer.
Love thanked Rich for her remarks, but the committee had no other reply to her request.