ORLEANS — Nauset Regional School Committee members said on March 2 they had no idea the U.S. Dept. of Education’s Office for Civil Rights had investigated the high school and found that the administration had failed to follow its own grievance process for harassment based on race, color, or national origin.
The federal complaint was filed in 2019 by Sandy and Will Rubenstein, who said their daughter Mia was taunted by classmates and by a teacher for being Jewish throughout her freshman year (2018-2019). In March 2021, after an investigation, the Nauset district agreed to conduct staff training on diversity and rewrite its policies on harassment.
While Supt. Tom Conrad, now retired, nominally complied with the settlement agreement by conducting staff training, none of the staff knew why the training was taking place, the Independent reported on Feb. 9.
The school committee was not informed either.
“Am I the only person who didn’t know that this was going on?” asked Cathryn Lonsdale, a committee member from Brewster.
Several other members said they also didn’t know.
“Why?” asked Lonsdale. “Why weren’t parents and the school committee made aware that there was an investigation going on?”
Chair Chris Easley of Wellfleet said all he knew was that in 2019 Sandy Rubenstein sent an email to committee members about her daughter being harassed. Mia said that students sent her pictures of Hitler and of concentration camps and of a student with a swastika on her forehead. She was called a “filthy Jew.” The email said the Rubensteins had taken Mia out of Nauset High, Easley said.
“But as far as any type of investigation, that was never brought to us,” said Easley.
“Well, I find that mind-boggling,” Lonsdale said.
Judy Schumacher of Orleans said she and Easley are the only current members who were on the committee in 2019.
“My recollection is the same as Chris’s,” Schumacher said. “We were assured that the situation had been dealt with. Did we ask tough enough questions? Perhaps not. But I don’t recall being given the opportunity.”
Lonsdale said, “There clearly was a lack of transparency, and it would appear that everything was swept under the rug.”
Easley said it is “difficult to dissect a situation” that occurred a while ago and involved people who are not now present like Conrad and former Principal Chris Ellsasser.
The committee had asked Robin Millen, director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment, to make a presentation on the current diversity work being done in the district’s schools.
Millen titled her presentation “A Vision for Improving Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging at Nauset Public Schools.”
The school hired diversity consultants to provide professional development in 2021-2022, Millen reported. This year the staff is working with the organization Dignity Consulting.
Millen said staff are being trained to review textbooks for discriminatory content and to be sensitive to diverse perspectives. Millen said she had spent the day with the first group of about 30 teachers doing in-depth training.
Dick Stewart, a committeeman from Orleans, said the training seemed focused on adults. “The students — I don’t see too much in here,” he said.
Millen said there are plans to involve students as well. “I do think we need more of that,” she said.