WILMINGTON, MA – School and town leaders find themselves in an undesirable situation. They want to alleviate parents’ concerns about a potential personnel matter regarding a town employee, but they cannot disclose any information about the matter, citing state law. In fact, they cannot even officially confirm or deny that the matter even exists.
Yesterday, on Thursday, May 11, Interim Superintendent Paul Ruggiero emailed parents after a news station contacted him. The reporter was inquiring about an internal investigation of a town employee. Ruggiero wrote to parents that, due to state law, he could not disclose any information on the matter (to the reporter or anyone else), but that “the Town and Wilmington Public Schools take very seriously the safety of our students and take all necessary steps with their safety in mind.”
Upon receiving Ruggiero’s brief statement via email, hundreds of parents responded by turning to social media, specifically the “Wilmington Community Board Page” on Facebook, trying to crowdsource additional information. Posters expressed frustration about the lack of specificity provided in the “cryptic” email. (Who was the town employee in question? Which school, if any, did the employee work at? What was he or she alleged to have done? Was a child/children involved?) Many posters promised to send an email to the Interim Superintendent, demanding answers.
This morning, on Friday, May 12, School Committee Chair Steve Bjork met with Interim Superintendent Paul Ruggiero to compose a follow-up email letter to shed a bit more light on the situation and to calm the unease among parents. The two then met with Town Manager Jeff Hull and Selectmen Chair Mike Champoux to finalize the letter. The letter was emailed to parents late this morning.
“We apologize for any anxiety you’ve experienced, and we would like to make an attempt to offer you some level of comfort,” read the letter.
The letter reinforced the dilemma the school system and Town Hall face.
“[A] media outlet claimed to have received a tip regarding an alleged internal investigation being conducted involving a Town of Wilmington employee,” read the letter. “ It was our intention to provide you with as much information as possible before the media potentially portrayed it as a nefarious situation occurring in your hometown. Regrettably, we are prohibited by state law from commenting about personnel issues. As a result of adhering to state law, and trying to get information to you before a newscast aired, we drafted a statement that we now realize was inadequate.”
The letter then went on to stress that students are safe.
“We have received many emails from concerned parents posing the primary question, ‘is my child safe?’ The answer to that is, yes,” read the letter. “Without confirming or denying the matter in question, we can assure you unequivocally, based on the facts as we understand them, no child was endangered in any way. Furthermore, all precautions remain in place to ensure as best as humanly possible the safety of our children in the schools.”
The letter acknowledged the outcry from parents on Facebook that the initial email caused, referring to some of the comments as “wild speculation popping on social media without basis in fact.”
The letter specifically defended an individual which several Facebook posters alleged was the employee in question.
“One outrageous claim, that seems to be accepted as fact, is that the matter involved a vice principal of one of our schools,” read the letter.” “While we do not plan to engage in defending individuals on a person-by-person basis, this disturbing, reckless, and heartless allegation must be refuted. Such a claim could result in irreparable damage to a person’s reputation.”
Town and school leaders urged parents not to “engage in speculation or to contribute to hearsay” online.
Wilmington Apple will continue to follow this story.
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