Words matter. They can be used to hide the truth or to reveal it. The Provincetown Select Board gave us a fine example of the latter this week.
One month ago, we reported that students at Nauset High were upset by an “All Lives Matter” sign posted by the main office. Their objections had been dismissed by Principal Patrick Clark. Ngina Lythcott of Provincetown said she was surprised that school administrators did not see the students’ distress as an opportunity to engage them.
“The appropriate response,” said Lythcott, “is not calling people out. It’s calling people over — using that as a teachable moment.”
I called School Supt. Brooke Clenchy to find out what school leaders were thinking. She said they thought the “All Lives Matter” sign was “absolutely fine.” Their reasoning went like this, according to Clenchy: “If there was a ‘Black Lives Matter’ sign in a city, and somebody had spray-painted out the ‘Black’ and wrote ‘All,’ then it was seen as a sign of disrespect. But because this was part of the sign celebrating Black History Month, they felt that it was a good message.”
The previous week, K.C. Myers had reported the story of Mia Rubenstein, who says she was subjected to anti-Semitic bullying by students and by her government teacher. She and her parents complained, but the school did nothing. Investigators from the federal Office for Civil Rights found that Nauset had not followed its own harassment policy and had kept no records of five separate complaints filed by Mia and her parents. When Myers located the teacher, now working in another town, he denied ever having been questioned by Nauset school officials about the case.
Supt. Clenchy didn’t have much to say to us about the Rubenstein case. But in a Feb. 17 email to parents, she complained that “components of information provided by the District regarding current practices and Professional Development activities were not shared with the newspaper’s readers.”
Here’s what Clenchy wrote about those practices and activities: “On-going professional development with experts continues to build understanding and commitment towards supporting a climate of belonging through shaping a culture of dignity. By partnering awareness with action, such as the establishment of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), Multi-tiered Systems of Support (MTSS), and Response to Intervention (RtI) throughout the district, together we set the goals to build stronger interpersonal, institutional and instructional structures.”
I respect Ngina Lythcott, and I value her advice about “calling over” and not “calling out.” But the editor in me can’t help calling out Clenchy for this undigestible word salad. What does it mean?
The Provincetown Select Board has called on Clenchy to address the “deceit, obfuscation, and misdirection” of school officials in responding to these incidents. It asked her to take immediate action “so that we can be confident that the students we send to Nauset … can once again feel like they are being taught and cared for in an inclusive and welcoming environment.”
The clarity of meaning in those words is what is needed.