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Mud slung at Clifton-Fine School Board meeting

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STAR LAKE — Accusations of unprofessional behavior on the part of Clifton-Fine Central School Board of Education members, teachers and staff punctuated its meeting Monday, with one board member calling for the resignation of another.

Jeremy E. Thompson accused fellow board member Mary L. Fraser of threatening interim Superintendent Susan O. Shene in a widely circulated email about the black and red armbands and door decorations students and staff displayed Friday after the board terminated the contracts of Mrs. Shene as interim superintendent and of Brian S. Buchanan as interim principal.

“Some teachers are teaching hatred, not disagreement. Use your head!” Mrs. Fraser wrote to Mrs. Shene in the email Mr. Thompson obtained under a Freedom of Information Law request. “You are inciting children and someone is going to get hurt! You. Because supposedly you are in the leadership.”

Board President Michelle L. Durham tried to cut Mr. Thompson off from speaking, saying time had run out for public comment, but there were cries from the audience of about 100 people for him to be allowed to continue.

The board’s actions have been responsible for bad morale, the civil disobedience of students in Friday’s sit-in and bad press — and show disdain for the community, Mr. Thompson said.

“Certain actions have repercussions and I believe this is one of those times,” he said in asking Mrs. Fraser to resign.

She declined.

“I don’t care. I stand by what I said,” Mrs. Fraser said. “Too bad. You’re not my father, and you’re not my boss.”

After the meeting, Mrs. Fraser said her intent was to tell Mrs. Shene that she bore the ultimate responsibility as head of the administration.

The black on the armbands did not represent hatred but mourning for the loss of the administrators, said teacher Mary Kay Durham, who came up with the idea. The red symbolized disagreement with the board’s decision.

Mrs. Shene in an email to staff reminded them not to show any disrespect with their use of the armbands.

“We need to be role models,” she wrote.

Michelle Durham’s interaction with parent Jaime D. Simmons — who started an online petition supporting the administrators — and others on Facebook was criticized by Janice M. Brothers.

“She said some things that shouldn’t have been said by a board president to a member of the community,” Ms. Brothers said.

Board members did not sanction Michelle Durham.

“The harassment, it went both ways,” board member Daniel Kerr II said.

Relations among some board members and the administration have been tense since the failure to reach a contract with Mrs. Shene for her to become superintendent. Mrs. Shene will return to being principal, which left Mr. Buchanan — who declined the superintendent’s position — without a job at Clifton-Fine.

At a special meeting Wednesday, the board gave Mr. Buchanan and Mrs. Shene 30-day notices terminating their interim positions.

No reason was given. Mr. Buchanan was the subject of a complaint about his physical treatment of a student although state police determined his actions were justified.

According to the packet of emails obtained by Mr. Thompson, Mrs. Fraser wrote board President Michelle Durham wondering how to reveal that the board’s no-confidence vote in Mrs. Shene had little to do with Mr. Buchanan.

“Can we ask questions of the superintendent about the inadequacies we know about in order for the audience to know what we know regarding the administration?” Mrs. Fraser wrote.

Several students said the turmoil has split the school community, making learning difficult.

Those running for three seats on the school board are Mrs. Durham, incumbent Richard W. Hitchman, incumbent Robert P. Tebo III, Jerry W. Bush, Christopher E. Cooper, Thomas P. Hartmann, Danny Hickey, Robert E. Lachut and Christopher L. Westbrook.

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