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Editorial: Mahar meeting

If there’s good news coming from this week’s meeting of the Mahar Regional School Committee, it’s that the parties involved in the controversy over a popular teacher’s disputed suspension are now trying to find a mutually acceptable resolution.

Even as agreement is reached, however, one that essentially allows Michael Magee, a teacher, and Superintendent Michael Baldassarre to make up, there’s still plenty in the handling of the matter that leaves much not to like on the public’s part.

We understand that we live in a litigious society, where the constant threat of lawsuits permeates just about any kind of discussion. Instead of the last-resort option when it comes to disagreements, it now is the go-to option. And to try to protect themselves, the boards, committees and individuals entrusted with overseeing the operation have their own go-to approach: executive session. But there’s this mistaken belief that everything can somehow be dealt with behind closed doors, with nary a nod to the public or its interest in the matter. Public school committee meetings are not private boardrooms.

That’s not how the guiding principle here, the state’s Open Meeting Law, works, even if we’ll admit that there is a bit of fudge room when it comes to interpretation of the statute.

One place, though, where the statute is more than straightforward is when an employee like Magee asks for his hearing to be held in open session. Yes, the committee did finally go along with Magee’s request, but there should have been no hesitation — the law is clear here. And that’s something that Baldassarre knows, or should know, too, no matter his desire to handle the disciplinary hearing, and his role in it, privately.

We can’t give more credit to the committee here, though, because of the decision to take testimony of secretaries in closed session. As stressful or uncomfortable as such testimony might be, that’s no reason to ignore that their comments were part of the fact-finding that Magee — and his roomful of supporters — had wanted to be held in open session. Instead, the committee seemed to be making up the rules as it went along, and that can wind up hurting the individuals involved, the committee, district and community in the end.

While school officials may want to err on the side of caution, everyone is better served if they err on the side of keeping everything transparent. To do so, keep it out in the open.

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