Griffith Faces Off with School Board Over Student Issues

NEWPORT, VT - During the public comment period at Tuesday's North Country High School Board meeting, recently-elected member Maggie Griffith spoke to the board as a public citizen about discipline issues that had been brought to her attention. Griffith read a statement about her love for the school, which opened in 1967, but expressed concern that over the past few years there is a lack of discipline on the part of the administration handling student issues.“I came before the school board three times last year,” she stated. “But there was no discussion about the problems that I raised.” As a result, Griffith said, she ran for the school board - and won by a sizable margin. Once elected, Griffith has received cards and phone calls from parents telling their stories about the school. Griffith was a former administrator at North Country.“Parents expressed concern over unacceptable behavior on school buses,” Griffith observed. She tried to meet with bus drivers to see if they are reporting all incidents on their buses, “I didn't want to hear complaints, only to get information about behavior issues,” she added.Griffith said she approached Principal Bill Rivard to get information about behavior incidences reported by the bus drivers, but he said he would refer complaints to a committee for action. Griffith then approached Superintendent Robert Kern who deferred the issue back to Rivard. Board Chairperson Rose Mary Mayhew advised Griffith that discipline issues can't be discussed in open session but she could submit specific questions to Rivard so he could provide answers at a school board meeting.Griffith then provided a list including questions about dress codes, cutting classes, use of vile language, students leaving campus during school hours, lack of an administrative presence outside when the buses are dropping off and picking up students, and students smoking.Board member Denis Beloin objected to Griffith's presentation and stated that he has a problem with board members micro-managing the administration over discipline issues. "It's their job,” he emphasized.Member Rick Geisel agreed with Beloin, noting the administration can answer issues about the process and how it is handled by board and various committees. But he disagreed with the idea of addressing multiple, specific incidents.However, member Richard Cartee spoke in defense of Griffith. “It's not micro-managing if members of the public come to me. I should be allowed to raise it at the board meetings.”Beloin fired back. “The problem is Maggie (Griffith) is going out and seeking problems.... As an administrator, you (Griffith) couldn't address every issue.” He admonished her, “We can focus on specific issues, but don't go looking for trouble.”Vice Chair Peter Moskovites told Griffith the issue goes to the appropriate committee for review. "That's the process.” And he pointed out that she didn't have to come before her fellow board members as a citizen. “You are a board member.”Griffith disagreed stating that if she came as a board member, “You (the board) would have shot me down. We wouldn't have this discussion.”The discussion concluded when Superintendent Robert Kerr insisted that some of the comments by Griffith about Principal Rivard were not appropriate for public disclosure, as they constituted personnel issues and should be dealt with in executive session if necessary.