December 10, 2015
Hold that contract, Minneapolis school board members.
Just two days after the board chose Sergio Paez to be Minneapolis’ new superintendent, a troubling news report surfaced from Paez’s previous employer, the Holyoke, Massachusetts public schools.
Paez was superintendent of the Holyoke schools from 2013 until this past summer, when the state took over the district, citing chronic academic underperformance.
But that’s not what is raising alarms now.
A December 9 article from the Boston Globe bears this headline: “Holyoke school abused disabled children, report says.” Reporter Bryan MacQuarrie then describes in detail some shocking allegations against staff at Holyoke’s Peck School, which serves–or is supposed to serve–“emotionally disabled” children in grades four through eight.
Here is some of what Massachusett’s Disability Law Center found at Peck, during an investigation:
The Disability Law Center’s review, which began in May, looked back for about a year before that time and conducted more than 45 interviews with students, parents, former staff members, and others.
One 67-pound student was restrained 50 times, including about a dozen times when the pupil was held prone on the floor, according to Eichner and the report. The child complained to a parent of being unable to breathe, and that some of the restraints had been painful, the center said.
“Prone restraints can lead to serious injuries or even death,” Eichner said. Some restraints lasted for longer than 20 minutes, the investigation found.
Children were thrown to the floor for not moving, pulled out of chairs for refusing to get up, tackled to the ground, and restrained for refusing to change into a uniform, investigators were told.
Judging by this report and the news article, the abuses at Peck were under full investigation during Paez’s time at Holyoke (which has just 11 schools, overall). Yet HYA, the search firm hired by the Minneapolis school board to garner “high quality” candidates, assured the board–publicly, repeatedly–that all of the finalists for the superintendent position had been subjected to a rigorous examination of their work histories and their references.
How could this story from Holyoke have escaped HYA’s “rigorous” spotlight? This puts the Minneapolis school board in the tough position of having to reexamine the candidate they thought would be the best person to lead Minneapolis forward.
Reporter MacQuarrie was aware that Paez had just been awarded the superintendent’s position in Minneapolis:
The allegations surfaced during the tenure of former Holyoke superintendent Sergio Paez, who lost his job after Massachusetts education officials voted in April to place the district under state control.
On Monday, the Minneapolis school board voted to appoint Paez as that city’s next school superintendent. Members of the board did not respond to requests from the Globe to comment on whether the allegations would affect his hiring.
Perhaps that petition circling through Minneapolis last weekend, demanding that the school board restart its superintendent search, will now carry more weight. It had 950 names as of Monday night, when the school board voted Paez in.
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