SHEFFIELD — Students and parents alike at Mt. Everett High School have expressed dissatisfaction and surprise over new safety policies and procedures.
Parents say they were not notified of these new changes, while Superintendent Beth Regulbuto says there was ample time for discussion and transparency.
Some teachers have also voiced frustration during the first few weeks of school. Science and technology teacher Jim Berlstein posted on his Facebook page that he was feeling a hostile work environment at the schools.
“For 18 years I have worked in a wonderful and productive educational environment,” Berlstein wrote. “ALL of that is changing this year. We are now enduring a… hostile work environment,”
Berlstein has since deleted the post. Sheffield police were subsequently notified of Berlstein’s comments.
When asked about Berlstein’s Facebook post, Regulbuto said, “Anybody who heard that would be concerned, we want to assure everyone that we have a solid, safe environment for both faculty and staff. We have no indication that its an environment where people can’t come to work or they can’t do their job safely.”
Regulbuto said she believes Berlstein had not intended to imply that anyone was in danger. She said that anytime a post like that is made, school leaders will naturally want to understand what was meant and to get to the bottom of the situation.
“I don’t think [Berlstein] intended the post to go the way it did,” said Regulbuto, “I think he said that to people and he wanted to express himself and my understanding is that he didn’t mean it to cause the hysteria that ensued.”
More than just one teacher’s Facebook post has captured the attention of the community.
At an impromptu question and answer session last week at Mt. Everett High School, Jessie Laine, a parent of a first-grader and two high school students, said “Beth [Regulbuto] explained that she wasn’t sure why this school year seems unorganized, hectic, chaotic, and unorganized” compared to recent years.
Laine said that although Regulbuto’s first year as superintendent was the 2017-2018 school year, there were no memorable issues last year. This year, starting with the first week of classes, was different, she said.
“My kids came home and were really unhappy. My son, in high school, even said he wanted to transfer schools,” explained Laine. “My kids came home last year, and they were happy.”
When asked whether parents have addressed these issues with school administrators, Laine said parents had been calling the superintendent and the principal but hadn’t been getting responses.
“We’re not getting very good communication from the school,” Laine said.
Regulbuto, however, said she and the administration “will share constantly and if you have questions, please, ask, ask, ask. We will continue to communicate in multiple ways.”
Parents and members of the school community met on September 11 to discuss the situation. Parents and students complained that they haven’t been issued a handbook or code of conduct for this school year. Usually these handbooks are sent out by the end of the first week of school, now that week three is coming to a close and parents have said they’ve yet to receive one.
Another cause for concern among both parents and students is the unexplained absence of Kurt DeGrenier, Dean of Students.
DeGrenier, according to Laine and her children, is an effective educator who takes all student related incidents and issues seriously.
“Kurt returned just yesterday (Sept. 6) and was able to return my call within the first day of his return,” explained Laine.
When asked about DeGrenier’s temporary absence, Regelbuto issued the following statement:
“The District is in receipt of a complaint brought by a former Southern Berkshire Regional School District employee against one of our staff members. The District promptly investigated the complaint, in accordance with its policies and legal obligations. Please understand that due to privacy and confidentiality rights of the individuals involved, I cannot comment further on the specifics of this complaint or the investigation findings. What I can share with you, however, is that we take any allegations of this type or nature seriously, as it is our commitment to provide a safe and supportive environment for all students and staff. I want to assure all that at no point was the safety of any member of the school district community at risk.”
A Facebook page open to the community was created to raise awareness of the evolving issues at SBRSD. The owner of the page is not yet known to the public. The page has amassed close to 200 followers.
On September 2, the owner of the page posted that there will be ‘Where’s Kurt’ wristbands available Thursday evening, which the owner said was an additional response to the numerous phone calls and inquiries parents, teachers, and students have placed regarding the notable absence of DeGrenier.
“All I can say is that I’m happy to answer the questions that I can answer and we will continue to find ways to communicate that work with the public.”
DeGrenier returned to work at Mt. Everett High School on September 6, and the following say, a post saying: “OUR DEAN OF STUDENTS IS BACK! OUR VOICES ARE BEING HEARD. KEEP THE PRESSURE ON, AS THIS WAS ONE OF THE ISSUES. THERE IS STILL MORE TO DO!” appeared on the Facebook page soon after.
The Sheffield Police Department (SPD) had to be made aware of the ongoing events at the SBRSD.
In a statement on Monday, the SPD chief, Eric Munson said, “On Sunday September 2nd The Sheffield Police Department was made aware of an ambiguous and concerning post made by a staff member of SBRSD on social media late yesterday afternoon.” Members of the SPD were dispatched to greet parents, faculty, staff, and students entering Mt. Everett Elementary and High School the following morning.
The most recent setback for the district relates to the new softball complex. The new softball complex is anticipated to cost around $75,000 and the largest donor to the project retracted their donation, according to Laine.
At the meeting held by parents on Tuesday, Sept. 11, it was discussed that the private individual was retracting their gift because of the administration and “Regulbuto’s lack of experience, the unorganized environment that our district is in, [and] the lack of getting to know our small community,” according to meeting notes given to The Record.