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Northampton superintendent criticizes pledge strategy

  • GAZETTE FILE PHOTO<br/>Northampton school superintendent Brian Salzer said Friday that asking Northampton High School students to write a pledge aiding the police investigation of an anonymous threat was wrong.

    GAZETTE FILE PHOTO
    Northampton school superintendent Brian Salzer said Friday that asking Northampton High School students to write a pledge aiding the police investigation of an anonymous threat was wrong.

  • GAZETTE FILE PHOTO<br/>Northampton High School assistant principal Bryan Lombardi sent an email to teachers Dec. 21 instructing them to have students write a statement that would be used to aid police in their investigation of an anonymous threat.

    GAZETTE FILE PHOTO
    Northampton High School assistant principal Bryan Lombardi sent an email to teachers Dec. 21 instructing them to have students write a statement that would be used to aid police in their investigation of an anonymous threat.

  • Northampton High School Principal Nancy Athas

    Northampton High School Principal Nancy Athas

  • GAZETTE FILE PHOTO<br/>Northampton school superintendent Brian Salzer said Friday that asking Northampton High School students to write a pledge aiding the police investigation of an anonymous threat was wrong.
  • GAZETTE FILE PHOTO<br/>Northampton High School assistant principal Bryan Lombardi sent an email to teachers Dec. 21 instructing them to have students write a statement that would be used to aid police in their investigation of an anonymous threat.
  • Northampton High School Principal Nancy Athas

“This was not our way of doing business, not our protocol,” Salzer said. “I believe had we had more heads together, we would not have gone forward with this.”

Salzer released the full text of an email sent to teachers Dec. 21 by NHS Assistant Principal Bryan Lombardi, which read:

“Good morning. We have been asked by (the Northampton Police Department) to gather a writing sample of all our students. You will need to dictate a planned statement to the students. They will need to print the statement, not cursive and print their name. The statement will be delivered to you prior to the beginning of first period. Please review each statement as you collect them. If you notice any student with clearly different writing than you usually see please make a note, also if any student refuses please let me know. Students are not to know that this is a writing sample!!”

Salzer said Lombardi did not consult with him or with Principal Nancy Athas before sending the email to teachers on Dec. 21.

Both Lombardi and Athas declined to comment on Friday, referring a reporter to Salzer’s office.

Salzer said had he been consulted beforehand, he would have been opposed to using the pledge in the police investigation of the threat. “A pledge to unify students is an excellent idea.” he said. “Using it as an investigative tool tarnishes that idea.”

Salzer said parents weren’t notified about the pledge “because it was an on-the-spot decision,” and that once the pledge was given out, he was reluctant to release information until he had all the facts.

“I think it’s important to note that our administrators make hundreds of decisions each day and do great things for our kids each day,” Salzer said. “Occasionally, one of us makes a mistake. It’s important to be honest and acknowledge when mistakes are made.”

Previous explanations

The Dec. 21 Lombardi email appears to counter earlier assertions about the pledge in which school and police authorities suggested that it was given to the student body in part as a way to help them feel more safe and secure in the wake of the Dec. 14 school massacre in Newtown, Conn.

In Northampton on Dec. 19, an NHS student found an anonymous threat in a boy’s bathroom at the school. Police have not released specific details about the threat, which authorities say is still under investigation.

Students were dismissed under police supervision that day and police were present Dec. 20 during arrival and dismissal times at NHS.

Salzer said the idea of collecting writing samples from students was suggested in a Dec. 20 faculty meeting, “along with many other ideas.” Police officials also participated in that meeting, he said.

Early on Dec. 21, a police detective suggested a writing sample “protocol” to Lombardi, an idea that had the support of the Northwestern district attorney’s office, Salzer said. Lombardi responded by sending an email to teachers before their first period classes instructing them to deliver the pledge to students.

The pledge, which referred to both the school shootings in Connecticut and the threat at the high school, asked students to promise to “take these incidents seriously” and to pass any information about the threat to school staff.

Salzer said he and Athas were informed about the pledge after teachers had already “followed through with the activity.”

The superintendent, who said he has spent the past few weeks investigating how decisions about the pledge were made and communicated, said he has no problem with police suggesting that writing samples be gathered.

But Salzer said Lombardi acted too quickly on that suggestion and failed to consult with other administrators before asking teachers to give out the pledge.

“We rushed a decision we shouldn’t have rushed,” Salzer said. “We have a crisis team and an administrative leadership team we should bounce things off of. That morning, that was not done.”

Salzer noted that in the wake of the Newtown shootings, administrators and teachers had student safety uppermost in their minds. “The climate of that week, it felt urgent,” he said.

Attorney William Newman, director of the western Massachusetts office of the American Civil Liberties Union, said Salzer delivered Lombardi’s email and the text of the pledge to him Friday in response to a Public Records Law request he filed Jan 16.

In a blog post on Friday, Salzer sought to reassure parents and others critical of the pledge strategy that, “now, and in the future, we will gather more people and perspectives around the situation, respect the trusting relationship we have with our students and families, and we will work to resolve future crises in a proper and respectful manner.”

There has to be an assumption that a District attorney would know the legalities of the pledge. I would be outraged if Mr. Lombardi did not act on this advice, especially in the immediate aftermath of the worst known massacre of our lifetime. Our children's safety is the only thing that matters and I applaud his actions and concern.

It's appears it’s a witch-hunt and Mr. Lombardi has been the target. Mr. Lombardi did something he felt and appears to have been advised was not unlawful and would help investigators in solving this crime. Let's be clear about this situation - it is a crime that was committed by the person who wrote that note. Our family has no issue with how this was handled and would like to thank Mr. Lombardi for taking action in this deadly threat that was made towards the children and it’s employees of Northampton High School. The pledge may have had a double intention, but both intentions were for the good of the Northampton High School community in our opinion. We thank you for you daily diligence in looking out for the well-being of all who attend and work at the Northampton High School Mr. Lombardi.

I am glad to finally see public officials not trying to cover up for the errors and mistakes of others. Why has Mr. Lombardi not simply apologized for making an extremely poor decision in a very difficult situation? The community could understand that, or perhaps he does not think he made an error. I applaud Dr. Salzer for acknowledging that a mistake was made, providing the path for how it could have been done better, and let the community know what really happened. If Mr. Lombardi had followed the normal course, consult with the principal and superintendent, then the situation would have been avoided. Manipulating students in a police investigation without parental consent is never right for a school official.

As a community member I have witness the decision making process of the school department and at the high school as it has been presented in the Gazette. Typically this seems to involved forming committees and having endless discussion, period. As a parent of a former NHS student, my experience was the only administrator who could make a decision and see that action was taken when needed was Mr. Lombardi. Given how quick his superiors were to throw him under the bus, he would be wise to change his ways. From now on maybe he will sit on committees twiddling his thumbs while more meetings are planned. Given Mr. Lombardi's passion for his work and true concern for the safety and best interest of the students I do not see that happening.

I am confused! According to the caption under the photo: "Brian Salzer, fielding a question from the public during interviews last week, has been named the new Northampton school superintendent Thursday. Purchase photo reprints »" How could the DA have approached Superintendent Brian Salzer when this was done if he was only appointed superintendent last Thursday??????

I have found from prior interactions with Mr. Salzer that he will say whatever people want to hear.....and will point fingers as he sees the need to divert any sort of responsibility from himself....glad he was not part of the decision making process as he can not make a decision, and certainly not a decision with OUR children's interests at heart, he just wants everything to "look" nice....an example of his lack of decision making is the late start times..take a stance, yes or no...but no, he can't make a decision...let's just have few hundred more meetings!! Bryan- WE LOVE YOU AND THE JOB YOU DO AND THE DECISIONS YOU MAKE EVERYDAY WITH OUR CHILDRENS BEST INTERESTS AT HEART!! THANK YOU SO MUCH!

There seems to be a presumption that a student wrote the note. Just wondering if the detectives are also gathering writing samples from teachers, aids, administrators etc. or anyone else who would have had access to the room where the note was found.

Mr. Lombardi was told by the Police Department representative that the District Attorney had approved this approach. Most people would say that is good enough. Brian L. is not a civil rights attorney, nor an attorney of any kind. The Police Department should have approached the Superintendent first. That would have been the proper approach. I wonder if perhaps Superintendent Salzer feels he was slighted by the town's authorities and is therefore letting Mr. Lombardi "take the heat" for the pledge. Whether his judgment call was right or not, he should be supported for putting safety of students and staff first, not criticized for doing so. Any appropriate criticism should be a private personnel matter.

i am wondering if it was necessary for superintendent Brian Salzer to throw Mr. Lombardi completely under the bus ? Can we spell 's-c-a-p-e-g-o-a-t'? (Pledge ruse "not our way of doing business", Gazette, 1/26/13). It appears Mr. Salzer wants to make it clear to our community that he had nothing to do with the decision to allow the hand writing sample to take place. I find it disheartening that our superintendent would not praise Mr. Lombardi publicly for making a difficult decision in real time that may have protected the lives of students. We are able to play monday morning quarterback and second guess decisions because nothing serious happened. Anyone who knows Mr. Lombardi knows that he loves his students and his job, and the students love and respect him. He puts his heart and soul into the lives of his students. I want to thank Mr. Lombardi for protecting the students of NHS. He deserves the support of our community and the support of his superintendent.

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