By Stephen Seitz and
©2017 Telegraph Publishing LLC
The Green Mountain Union High School board sanctioned the comments of one of its own at its regular meeting on Thursday, April 13, as a room full of faculty, staff, students and other board members aired their outrage over comments made at the March 9 meeting by Andover representative Hank Mauti.
That situation was reported by The Chester Telegraph on Saturday, March 11.
Mauti found himself in hot water over comments he made about a schoolwide music production known as a “lip dub.” Last November, the students, teachers and staff created a 10-minute music video in which a students and teachers lip-synched a song and danced, sometimes with school objects and sometimes on the furniture. Mauti found dancing on the furniture to be objectionable. But he also objected to seeing two female teachers dressed in tie-dyed lab coats.
“There were a couple of female teachers with lab smocks on, wearing the colors of the gay and lesbian rainbow thing. I hope that wasn’t involved with taxpayers’ money,” Mauti had said at the March 9 meeting. “That was horrible.”
Most in the audience took offense at that statement. When the public was allowed to comment, transgender student AJ Jackson nervously stood to read his statement, saying that personal opinions are acceptable in private conversations, but “When you are in the seat of someone who holds power over the decisions of this school, it is completely inappropriate and wrong, but even worse when the opinion is heavily discriminatory and homophobic.”
He called Mauti’s remarks “questionable behavior” and a “non-constructive personal opinion,” and said that he was not the only student to find his words “deeply offensive.”
AJ was blunt in his statement, saying that “Mr. Mauti is quite clearly making his own personal homophobic interests known, might I add not the first time.”
As AJ finished speaking, he was given a standing ovation by the 30 or so teachers, students and parents in attendance.
Library media specialist Jeanie Phillips said, “The faculty at Green Mountain stand for LBGTQ students. We support them. We believe this school needs to be a safe place where any marginalized student doesn’t experience bullying or harassment. We feel that if a board member is making harassing comments about LGBTQ students, they don’t have the best interests of our students at heart, and they should step down.”
Freshman Laurel King, who recently became one of the student representatives to the Green Mountain board, read a statement on behalf of the students. “Beyond teaching film production skills,” she said, “the point of this video was to build a stronger school community and help to knit together the different groups at school. It was also an opportunity to learn about teamwork, timing and coordination. Since everyone in the building participated, it was a chance to highlight the student groups which don’t get much attention as the traditional sports teams do.”
Laurel added that Mauti was mistaken about the lab coats.
“Each grade has a class color, which students wear to pep rallies in order to show school spirit,” she said. “They were wearing tie-dye lab coats because tie-dye is the faculty class color. The fact is, the teachers at Green Mountain are in support of every student here, LGBT included. I believe it is our school’s responsibility to make sure students feel safe in school so they’re able to learn.”
Language Arts teacher Jason Rickles read a statement on behalf of the faculty, stressing that the school should serve and support all of its students.
“We as a faculty request, nay, demand, that our upper level administrators and school board members share this desire to maximize learning opportunities for all students,” he said.
Rickles also defended the entire lib dub as a school-wide education project, calling it “a Herculean” task requiring “weeks of pre-planning, hours … of preparation, mapping and remapping a route …. coordination of hundreds of people, technical drill and practice, enormous amounts of equipment preparation … the dedication of dozens of student leaders and one entire school community.”
For his part, Mauti said his primary concern was the students dancing on school furniture.
“I opened that statement with the fact that I have no problem with the kids doing what they did,” he said. “I thought it was a great project. What upset me, and upset the stockholders of this school, was the abuse of the furniture, jumping on it, dancing on desks, jumping on that couch over there. This whole thing could have been done without doing that goofy stuff. I heard the word ‘safety’ half a dozen times from each speaker, and I don’t think dancing on top of desks and tables is a safe act. It’s an abuse of what the taxpayers gave you. That’s what upset me.”
Mauti added that he agreed with the faculty’s sentiments concerning the school’s role. “Everything you said was right,” he said. “That’s the way a school should operate.”
Board chair Alison DesLauriers told Mauti that the students and faculty were speaking of emotional safety, that no one had come to talk about the furniture, but about Mauti’s remarks concerning the tie-dyed lab coats.
“I would think that you should be entertaining an apology for the statements you made later,” she said. “Does that make sense?”
Mauti said he didn’t see why. “I don’t see I should apologize for anything I said, because everything I said was from my heart,” he said. “I don’t have anything against anybody. It’s the abuse of the equipment.”
DesLauriers replied, “When you sit at this table, you are held to a higher standard than when you’re in the public on the sidewalk. We’re all entitled to our opinions, but when we sit here, we’re held to a higher standard. We just finished signing the code of conduct that night, and it talked about respect. Respect for the building, respect for the staff, respect for the students. Your snide comment was completely out of line, and totally unacceptable.”
“That’s what I’d like to see,” Mauti replied, “some respect. That may be somebody’s opinion, but it’s not my opinion. I was talking about the abuse of school property.”
DesLauriers asked for a motion to sanction Mauti’s comments for violating the board’s code of conduct, which the board did without objection from Mauti.
According to Two Rivers Superintendent Meg Powden, a sanction “means that the board recognizes that one member has violated the code of ethics. Because of that violation, the board, Alison in particular, entertained a motion to sanction Mr. Mauti’s comments.” The sanction, she added, will just be “on his record.”
About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor for 30 years, having worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.