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Sutton High News

Rescheduled School Committee Meeting

May 9, 2024
The+student+members+of+Connections+2024
The student members of Connections 2024
School Board Meeting

If you weren’t a part of the audience at the recent School Committee meeting, let people’s actions be described with one word: eager.

Sutton High School’s auditorium, the location for this School Committee Meeting, was filled to a surprising amount, based off the regular amount of attendees at these meetings.

The meeting started off with an explanation of Connections from Principal Mr. McCarthy.

Announcing his presentation, School Committee Chair Ben Gibbons stated the reasoning behind it was to help people know what Connections is and what is hopes to accomplish.

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Mr. McCarthy spoke, at the beginning of his thirty minute speech, about what exactly he was discussing: “facts and information about our Connections, our club, the conference, what we do and what we don’t do.”

He then made an apology, “I want to apologize for the timeliness of our response…we were definitely not as proactive as we should have been, and for the part that I played in that I take personal responsibility.”

He spoke more to his opinion on the matter, “I want to apologize for the workshop in question, not that I think Worcester Pride did anything wrong.”

Three minutes of that presentation went a little bit too far. I wish she hadn’t gotten on the table, I wish she hadn’t sung the song from Mean Girls.”

— Principal Ted McCarthy

Aside from all of this, a quote from his slide goes into yet another debate. The quote states, “All of this is voluntary. No student is required to participate in any of this.”

The slide showing a part of Mr. McCarthy’s presentation where he discussed his confusion with what people are saying “the other side is”.

It must be noted that Connections is an opt-out instead of an opt-in class for ninth graders, not just a club. Being a member of Connections as well as the conference is a voluntary thing; however, the class is something that all students  will take unless stating that they opt-out. The class goes over the Connections curriculum, as well as some lessons on how to be inclusive in school.

Another key part of this presentation was the statement that there will be a “published agenda” for the next ConCon Conference.

Did this diminish the parent’s fears in the audience even a little? It is unknown; however, seems like a step in the right direction for those opposing the events of ConCon 2024.

The tension built up during this explanation of Connections, as several comments were made on the speech’s transparency, as well questions about the two students who left the workshop uncomfortable.

Mr. McCarthy continued his presentation and the crowd got more frustrated with some saying, “No more quotes.”

Soon after this the Connections presentation ended.

The slide showing a part of Mr. McCarthy’s presentation where he discussed his confusion with what people are saying “the other side is”.

Perhaps this presentation was meant to ease the minds of the parents and other people present at the meeting; however based off some of the speeches, it wasn’t successful with some.

Before opening the floor to speakers, School Committee Chair Ben Gibbons explained the process. Speakers who signed up prior to the meeting were allowed to speak. While signing up, people’s addresses were collected in order to confirm residency. The audience would then be dismissed by row to approach the microphone (two microphones available). There was a time limit of three minutes for those who wished to ask questions (or speak); however, this rule was broken on many occasions. The questions asked would be recorded, and after all questions were asked, the board would compile the questions and responded to “each and every one” of them.

Good system? Maybe or maybe not; however the audience tended to shift to the ‘maybe not’ answer.

One audience member, Jim Griffin, started with a question about when certain questions from the last meeting would be answered. The Committee had previously responded that questions would be answered after everyone had the chance to speak. After leaving the microphone, his actions represented the rigid state of the room, as he walked back to the microphone, interrupting another person’s question, and asking yet again if there would be answers during the present meeting.

Speaker walks back and takes over microphone from other participator.

Next, Kathleen Huggins, the interrupted speaker and a parent, brought awareness to what she believed the school’s “red flags” were. She states that gender identity problems was unheard of before, but they now affect a large portion of students. She continued that this is due to  “a belief system, which the school presents to our children as if it were fact.”

More calls from the audience went directly towards the school board: “You people should be ashamed of yourselves.” Another shot was made towards Mr. McCarthy: “you should be fired…the police should arrest you and investigate the video.”

A teacher in the Simonian center, Julia Tringuk, wishes that everyone would move on so that the younger students would not have to deal with the threats being received by the school. She explains that bomb-finding-dogs work outside of their classrooms, and while doing so the children are scared and distracted from learning. This was not an opinion leaning one side or the other, but a plea for the people in the audience to “let things go” in return for the children’s safety.

There were several Christian representatives in the auditorium during the meeting, speaking on what Mr. McCarthy describe earlier in his presentation as “the other side.” However, Mr. McCarthy made this statement and explained that he did not believe there should be “another side” because Connections is a place for kindness and respect.

One commentator stated, “allow Christ to also be in here.”

Another unnamed speaker, certainly grabbed attention due to the passion in which he spoke, “I’m going to hit this from a different perspective. Everybody look at me, you see I’m not white.

“I didn’t see nothing about bible clubs up there…why our straight white children being, have pumped down their throats about sodomy, about transgenderism.”

— Out of town Speaker

There was also a few current and past students whom came to speak and share their support. One notable speaker, a current member of Connections, stated, “I came to this school with many thoughts in my head, but when I met people at Connections, they were very welcoming, and wanted to get to know me beside just the way I looked or acted.”

Lindsay Wilk, a Sutton resident, spoke to share support for Connections. “I feel this program is so important, because we need to fix some issues we have here in Sutton.” She discussed a very upsetting story of being forced to pull her child from the school system due to bullying in reference to his religion.

She continued, “If you want religion in school, please sign your kid up for a religious school, because I do not believe that religion belongs in school. And, how can you determine that your religion is more important than somebody else’s?”

Former student Bailey Bradley, took a different approach. He began by admitting to hate speech online toward Mr. McCarthy as well as the Connections club. “I do hate an ideology being spread and forced onto children.” He went on passionately, explaining that he was a student when the Connections club was starting. In reference to this he said that he was not a part of the club; however he was “always around.” The speech ended with a controversial comment: “It has always been push, guys.”

Several Connections teachers shared stories of how Connections has helped students feel heard and welcomed. They expressed their reasoning for Connections being a necessity for making students feel welcome and supported by the school. This was backed up with former students praising the school and the teachers who supported them during their time at Sutton.

Passionate speakers stand up for what they believe in during the School Committee Meeting.

Louis Oliver, graduate of Sutton High School, speaks to how disrespectful they believed the audience was being. Talking about people’s yelling and interrupting, they stated, “I’m gonna ask you not to do that.” This reflected how much speaking out of turn occurred. It also makes it clear that this audience was very upset and passionate with their opinions.

Brigid Stadinski, came to support the Connections club: “It is a valuable platform to promote inclusion, understanding, and respect within our community.”

Another parent, John Sullivan, stated,  “I will not accept that they go to school and have the beliefs of others pushed upon them. These are my kids, not yours.”

One particular quote, spoken with frustration was as followed, “Everyone deserves respect. And I do not think it is happening in our school, because I saw it tonight.”

After this, one could say it all went down hill, Jen Heck, having already had a turn at the microphone where she expressed support for Connections, demanded she speak again. When denied, she spoke anyway and asked everyone to not put people in danger online.

The board then called for a recess in order to review the questions to be answered.

Mr. McCarthy’s responses to some of the questions can be summarized as followed.

Teachers were not given the day off to prepare for the Connections Conference; that was the day the school was shut down due to water issues.

Males are not purposely excluded from joining Connections, in fact they are supportive when they see males applying.

The application process includes an entry essay as well as looking over what diversity they need to add into the group to carry out the purpose of Connections.

In reference to “pushing an agenda,” he explained that he understands that not everyone will agree, but that he does not believe a specific agenda is being pushed. He stated again that students are not required to participate.

After this, people present began calling out things about CORI checks and changing the policy. The board stated that they would have to meet to change said policy; however, they were open to discussions.

Most people present did not see this as an answer, but instead a stall. They asked for the board to simply answer their questions completely.  When asked if CORI checks occurred for Connections presenters, Mr. McCarthy responded, “No.”

The Sutton Committee Board Chair Benjamin Gibbons, Vice Chair Nathan Jerome, Secretary Jenifer Darling, Member Bruce Edwards, and Member Paul Brennan.

The Committee followed up on this by stating that CORI Checks are normally only seen necessary when someone is left alone or directly with the kids, and that conferences are considered different. Some of the audience most certainly did not agree with this statement. Later on, however, school committee member Paul Brennan took a different stance, stating that anyone in contact with students should be CORI checked.

A few former students in the meeting started calling arguments from the audience, in response Committee members were heard on a hot mic asking, “can we kick them out?” This prompted a police officer to became a bit more visible in the crowd; however, no one was kicked out.

One member of the committee, Bruce Edwards, moved that the committee would request “an internal, independent financial audit” in relation to any and all expenses related to the 2024 Connections Conference. This motion was then passed, with a comment from Mr. McCarthy stating he welcomes said audit.

Paul Brennan stated that he believed if a student or staff member came into school with the same outfit as the performer’s, they would be sent home or dismissed. He also explained that anyone getting on top of a table in school should be something to avoid. However, he made it clear that he was supportive and proud of what Connections is doing.

Bruce Edward’s shared his opinion on how the grant was used for the Connections speaker (not the performer but another speaker at ConCon 2024). He explained that he did not agree with them using the grant for “one specific small group,” referring to them using the money for a keynote speaker for the Connections club and not the entire school. He explained that he wants the school to “teach students how to think and not what to think.”

He believes that at this point the club has “crossed a line”, and that it has begun to “push an agenda”.

School Committee member Nathan Jerome shared next and expressed his appreciation for the input from the people at the meeting. He explained that he was touched by students reaching out to him to share the importance of Connections. He supports the Connections club, but recognizes that there will always be room for improvement.

Member Jennifer Darling stated that she found the Connections Conference this year to be filled with love, energy, and acceptance.

Finally, Ben Gibbons felt the drag performance went “too far” and should not have been in the school. He encouraged the parents present to begin thinking of the education value of the workshop, and whether or not there was a benefit.

The meeting began at 7:30 p.m. and ended at 11:30 p.m. The meeting gave people a chance to speak, but the general feeling is that this is far from over.

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About the Contributor
Jocelyn Klinghard
Jocelyn Klinghard, Staff Reporter
My name is Jocelyn Klinghard. I am a sophomore at Sutton High School, play flute in our band, and  recently started the Newspaper Club.

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