Efforts to oust ARRSD super launched

  • Athol Royalston Regional School District Superintendent Darcy Fernandes. ATHOL DAILY NEWS/GREG VINE

Athol Daily News
Published: 3/26/2020 6:12:51 PM
Modified: 3/26/2020 6:12:44 PM

ATHOL – Two efforts have been launched, apparently independently of one another, in an attempt to oust Superintendent Darcy Fernandes as leader of the Athol Royalston Regional School District.

A letter signed by 18 parents of members of the girls’ middle and high school basketball teams and an online petition, both urging the Athol Regional School Committee to fire Fernandes, were generated last weekend.

The letter was composed after a video of Fernandes speaking at the Wareham Boys and Girls Club Martine Luther King Jr. Breakfast on Jan. 20 came to light. In the video Fernandes, the event’s keynote speaker, discusses an incident that allegedly took place during a middle school girls basketball game in December 2018. Members of the Athol team were accused of taunting their opponents from Sabis International Charter School in Springfield with racial epithets.

An investigation was unable to adequately substantiate the accusations and Fernandes subsequently sent a letter to parents apologizing for comments she made in relation to the incident. Yet, she maintains that “evidence supports that racial statements were made” by Athol team members. Prior to the investigation, Fernandes reportedly upbraided the team, warned them of the gravity of the situation, and urged anyone who knew about the alleged incident to come forward.

In her address at the breakfast, Fernandes said that, during the investigation, members of the Sabis team were interviewed “and I found out, yes, that it happened that day on the court.”

She then said: “What played out in the news was the following: How dare she accuse us. How dare she put us in a position to believe our kids would be that way. And how dare she put in a civics justice course in the schools, where she tells the kids that black lives matter and blue lives don’t.

“I went to the girls’ basketball team,” she continued, “and I apologized — for my tone, not my actions.”

She also implied in her address that the teacher of the civics justice course was effectively chased from the district by angry parents.

When contacted for comment by the Athol Daily News on Tuesday, Fernandes said she would be releasing a statement the following day. On Wednesday, a spokesperson for the superintendent said she would have no comment at this time.

“Because it is considered personnel related I cannot comment at this time,” said School Committee Chair Lee Chauvette. “All info will be forwarded to our district counsel attorney Fred Dupere.”

Lonnie Bonifant, a co-author of the letter and whose daughter plays basketball (now for Athol High School), said she was unaware of the petition drive when she wrote the letter. The petition lists 13 grievances against Fernandes, including her actions relative to the basketball team.

“It is what it is,” she said. “It’s up to the school committee what happens from here on out. My biggest concern is still with the basketball issue. It’s left a bad taste in our mouths — the parents, the players, and the community — from start to finish. She was worried about the feelings of the Sabis players, but she didn’t think about the feelings of our kids.”

Fernandes address to the Boys and Girls Club, said Bonifant, stretches the truth. It bashes the town, in my opinion. It certainly doesn’t make the town look very good. And it doesn’t make our girls look good

“Writing a letter like this isn’t normally my thing, but you can only be pushed so far.”

Grievances against the superintendent in the online petition range from staff cuts, poor relations with the district teachers, allegedly referring to special needs students as “problem children,” and slandering the students on the girls’ basketball team. A link to a video recording of Fernandes’ speech in Wareham is also included.

The Athol Daily News has not been able to reach the originator of the petition, identified as “John Smith” and assumed to be a pseudonym. On online search found no John Smith listed as living in Athol or Royalston. With a stated goal of collecting 1,000 signatories, at last check it had been signed by 881 individuals.

However, there is no way of knowing exactly how many of those people are residents of Athol or Royalston or are parents of Athol Royalston Regional School District students. Anyone accessing the petition on the Change.org website can add their name.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com

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