The Everett School Committee voted at its Monday meeting to put long-time School Supt. Fred Foresteire on paid administrative leave after troubling allegations of sexual harassment against him surfaced over the past two weeks.
The decision came after nearly 90 minutes of the Committee meeting behind closed doors in executive session with Foresteire and other representatives. After re-emerging, Temporary Secretary David Ela announced the results to an audience of more than 200 that were on the edges of their seats.
“We will now announce the results of our meeting and our course of action,” said Ela. “The School Committee will appropriate $50,000 for an independent investigation into the allegations against Superintendent of Schools Fred Foresteire and the Everett Public Schools, and we will contact the Mass Association of School Committees for support and guidance in this case. The second (matter) is that Superintendent of Schools Frederick Foresteire will be put on administrative leave. The third (matter) is that we will appoint an interim superintendent of schools and the Everett School Committee would like to appoint Janice Gauthier as our interim superintendent of schools. Those are the results we have.”
Allegations of sexual harassment broke last week when many across the city became aware of a complaint put into the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) by former payroll clerk Andrea Garay.
This week, Boston Attorney Tera Swartz confirmed to television reporter Cristina Rex that she is also handling a second sexual harassment claim against Foresteire.
There is also much talk that more complaints are coming, or have been reported. However, none of those complaints could be confirmed by attorneys looking into the cases right now.
Prior to Monday’s executive session, with a crowd of nearly 200 people packed into the Everett High School Library and most of them demanding that Foresteire be put on leave, the School Committee convened its regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. with Supt. Foresteire at his usual seat in the middle of the assembly.
Foresteire did not speak, but rather Chair Bernie D’Onofrio led the initial part of the meeting, which seemingly put on display a visible amount of tension between members of the Committee. After some bantering back and forth, the Committee appointed Member David Ela as the temporary secretary to direct the meeting, and then they voted to go into a private executive session to discuss their course of action.
The vote on both matters was 8-1, with Member Lester MacLaughlin voting against both.
“Do the right thing!” yelled many in the crowd, among other things, as the Committee and Foresteire were escorted out of the room by Everett Police officers.
Joining the Committee on Monday was Mayor Carlo DeMaria, who is an ex-officio member. City Clerk Sergio Cornelio said under the charter the mayor can sit in on meetings, give his opinion on matters, but cannot vote.
For nearly 90 minutes, the Committee met with Foresteire, Assistant Supt. Charlie Obremsky, Asst. Supt. Kevin Shaw, Attorney James Tobin and representatives from the law firms LeclaireRyan and Spruce Law LLC.
In the interim, a large presence of news media interviewed residents and concerned staff members about the situation.
Also, community advocates Gerly Adrien and Jennifer Harelson read a statement from the Everett Education Coalition – a new group of residents that formed earlier in the fall during the dispute over education funding. Both denounced what they said was the inaction of local leaders regarding the allegations.
“We denounce Supt. Foresteire’s actions and we are deeply disappointed in the silence of the Everett School Committee, the Everett City Council, Sen. Sal DiDomenico, State Rep. Joe McGonagle and the Mayor’s Office on these allegations,” they read. “It is incumbent on our public servants and elected officials to pursue accountability and offer timely, transparent action in the face of such serious charges. As we move ahead it is critical to rally together and take meaningful action to create a safe place in Everett Public Schools. We will no longer be silent in the face of oppression, retaliation and fear fostered by so much of the leadership in our city.”
Added Harelson, “Now is the time to break the culture of silence and acceptance of sexual harassment and violence in our city and our schools. Be brave, be better because guess what? The kids are watching.”
Several in the crowd said they were concerned as well, and had come out because they wanted to make sure the School Committee knew this was important to the community.
“I heard the allegations at some point two weeks ago,” said Mary-Liz Murray, who said she was a lifelong Everett resident and graduate of Everett Public Schools. “I’m very concerned that they didn’t put him on administrative leave immediately like they would have done with any other employee. It’s untenable Mr. Foresteire is able to conduct school business on school property. It doesn’t give me confidence in our School Committee that they aren’t willing to discuss their plan in public.”
Parent Sarah Hilinski said that Foresteire would have been put on leave immediately in any other organization.
“It just makes sense if our largest priority is putting the children and the school environment first,” she said. “It makes sense to put the superintendent on leave until we can get to the truth. I work in higher education and when there is an allegation against someone, they are immediately put on leave. The same should happen here.”
The Coalition said it stood with Garay, and called her actions – which seemed to spark the entire matter – very courageous.
“Today the Everett Education Coalition is standing up in support of Andrea Garay and all those who have experienced incidents of sexual harassment, assault and discrimination in the Everett Public Schools,” they read. “We stand with Mrs. Garay and commend her for showing courage and resilience in the face of power and fear.”
All of the allegations against Foresteire are just that – only allegations. However, an investigation at MCAD is underway and the School Committee will begin its own independent investigation soon. Other investigations could also be forthcoming in the near future. In all cases, it will likely be a good deal of time until there is a resolution in either direction.