The firestorm is building over the decision by Boston School Superintendent Carol Johnson to not discipline an exam school headmaster convicted of assaulting his wife.
Boston School Committee member Mary Tamer said she’s “absolutely disgusted” by Johnson’s decision to keep Rodney Peterson on the job at the John D. O’Bryant School of Math & Science and to write a letter in support of Peterson to the judge in his case.
“I was shocked. I think I still am shocked,” Tamer said. “And it’s my hope that the chairperson of the school committee, Rev. Gregory Groover, will call a meeting in the near future, because I think we’ve reached a point where there needs to be a collective discussion among school committee members about how we move forward from here.”
Tamer said she is writing to Chairman Groover Wednesday to request that school committee meeting. Groover said the committee doesn’t usually intervene in personnel issues. He added that he’s satisfied with Johnson’s reflection and apology.
“It’s a lesson learned,” Groover said. “I think she’s very convincing, and she made it very clear that violence in any sort, in any way, is completely unacceptable and that that’s the message we want to teach our children.”
Superintendent Johnson made her first public apology Tuesday on WBUR’s Morning Edition.
“Last year, I made a mistake,” Johnson said. “I wish that I had done things very differently. In retrospect, I should have placed Dr. Peterson on leave immediately until this case was resolved and then determined his continued employment.”
In June of 2011, Peterson was arrested for allegedly punching and choking his wife, who had recently given birth to their first child. He later admitted to sufficient facts that a jury would have found him guilty, and he was sentenced to probation.
Several Boston city councilors have expressed concern over Johnson’s failure to act, including John Connolly, who chairs the council’s Education Committee. He is calling for Johnson’s resignation or ouster, based on this and other crises.
“I’m deeply disturbed by how this situation with Mr. Peterson was handled, where someone who plead out a domestic battery case and committed this brutal act of violence was allowed — knowingly allowed — to go back into the classroom, or back into the school, for a year,” Connolly said.
Connolly cited a pattern of what he calls “bad decisions and poor leadership by Dr. Johnson,” including “paralysis” of the school transportation system last fall, resulting in many school buses arriving to school late; what he termed “general chaos” around the closure, merging and moving of schools; and a Justice Department investigation surrounding the district’s programs for English language learners.
Regarding Johnson’s apology, Connolly said: “I don’t think it’s OK to simply say, ‘I’m sorry and I’ve put a policy in place so this won’t happen again.’ This is the sort of thing that doesn’t require a policy. You know what the right thing to do here is, and you just, either you do it or you don’t. It wasn’t done here. Do we really need to be told by words on a piece of paper that it’s not OK to put a batterer back in charge of a school where he’s going to be responsible for overseeing hundreds of children every day?”
Johnson said by the end of this week, the school department will issue a new policy to instruct all administrators, including her, how to deal with such cases.