Based on various questions and comments during last night’s meeting of the Manchester Board of School Committee, our guess is the placement of Parkside Principal Forrest Ransdell on paid administrative leave was at least part of the discussion held in non public session. Girard at Large has been investigating the story since mid last week after being tipped off to his removal from the building.
Ransdell, who has been praised for his work in restoring the troubled middle school to good order, is alleged to have violated the district’s so called “No Touch Policy,” which is allegedly based on state law. Sources have forwarded both the district’s policy and the recently amended state law that Ransdell has allegedly violated. According to multiple sources, Ransdell’s offense came after a sixth grade student, who has three times caused the school to go into what’s called “secure school mode,” which is one step shy of lock-down, refused to leave a class he was disrupting. According to confirmed reports, Ransdell was called to the class by the teacher in the hope the student would leave with Ransdell, but he didn’t. According to our corroborated information, Ransdell went behind the student, who was sitting at a desk, placed one or both hands under his arm or arms to raise him from the seat and escort him out of the classroom. The student then turned and punched Ransdell squarely in the stomach, after which the school resource officer got involved. It is unclear from our sources whether or not the student left the classroom after hitting Ransdell.
Our reading of the state law governing these matters is that it seems to specifically allow what Ransdell did, as does the city’s written policy. Under the law, any such incident must be reported to administrators within twenty four hours, if not immediately. It appears as if Ransdell followed the reporting requirements and was placed on administrative leave as a result, pending the outcome of an investigation. Girard at Large has also learned that roughly half a dozen other staff members, including Jewett Street School Principal Peter Lubelzcyk who our sources say has been on paid administrative for more than two weeks, have been removed under the No Touch Policy. Teachers at Parkside are reportedly very upset with the action against Ransdell and, like us, have more questions than answers about the mysterious workings of this policy.
In response to questions asked by Ward Three Committeeman Christopher Stewart, Superintendent Debra Livingston, who did not acknowledge our inquiries on the matter, admitted that the district did not have a policy governing the use of paid administrative leave during last night’s meeting of the Board of School Committee. Livingston tried to sidestep the question by saying she thought it should be discussed in non-public session, but Stewart said the question over the policy and how it worked could be done publicly without specific reference to any incident. When asked about what should be done about the lack of policy on the issue, Livingston again said she would discuss it in non-public session, at which point the conversation moved on.
News from our own backyard continues after this.
We now know why there was no non public agenda item for a discussion on what happened at West High. Superintendent Debra Livingston introduced Police Chief David Mara during the Superintendent’s Report agenda item to provide a debriefing in public session. While we’re pleased to see that it was done in public, it gives rise to our contention that the superintendent should itemize what she plans to report to the board on the agenda.
That notwithstanding, what we learned was that from the moment the school went into lock-down, the police were in constant contact with Livingston, contrary to public assertions by Alderman at-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur that she was nowhere to be found. Manchester SWAT Team Leader Lt. Mark Sanclemente briefed the board on the order of events and their efforts to secure the building.
They also stressed that while they brought every available unit and accepted offers of assistance for the State Police, Hillsborough County Sheriff and unnamed federal agencies, the rest of the city remained covered with patrols. Both Livingston and Mara, particularly Mara, had high praise for the staff at West and in the administrative offices. Their training kicked in and they did exactly as they should have, said Mara.
We also learned that the on site command post established by Lt. Sanclemente included officials from the ambulance provider, Fire Department and school district and that the district activated its own command post, which included Assistant Superintendent David Ryan, who was in constant contact with West Principal Christopher Motika. Catholic Medical Center was on alert as well, ready to implement its emergency plan if needed. There’s a whole lot more on this and you can get all the details in the Live Blog Forum of last night’s meeting. We’ve linked to it for your convenience, where you’ll also find stories on a tuition contract offer that will make its way to the Hooksett School Board and the approval of contracts for the assistant superintendents that was introduced at committee that night under new business and put on the board’s desk at 7 o’clock for approval, without the required evaluations, as pointed out by Ward Nine’s Arthur Beaudry.
Thanks to an cable outage that sidelined us for forty five minutes this morning, that’s all the news from our own backyard we had time to write. We’ll try to catch up with all of the rest of it during the show, which is next.