E-PETITION SPURS DEBATE
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – Bobby Walker, a CCS senior and leader of the Otsego County Young Republicans, said he was called into the principal’s office and told to “remove” e-petitions he was circulating on behalf of Laurie Pestar, the elementary school secretary who was seeking an unpaid leave while she fights cancer.
Walker refused to do so, and asked Middle/High School Principal Donna Lucy who had told her to rein him in. “I cannot tell you,” she replied.
“We do have a voice and we will not allow ourselves to be bullied into submission,” the senior told the school board that was meeting this evening in the packed middle/high school library. (It appeared most attendees were there for their Participation in Government class.)
His comments precipitated a back-and-forth between the school board and Walker, his pal MacGuire Benton, who heads the Young Democrats, and Mark Tabor, a CCS alumnus, which prompted Interim Superintendent Mike Virgil confessed: He had asked Lucy to intervene with Walker.
Virgil had been out of town, he explained, heard some of the comments on Walker and MacGuire’s online petition had been inappropriate, and had been hoping to work things out with the student one-on-one when he got back to town.
Walker said he also disagreed with some comments generated on the e-petition, which collected more than 1,000 signatures, but “you can’t hold us responsible” for every comment someone might make on social media.
Veteran school board member Tony Scalici cautioned about “danger in the modern world… Accusations put on social media can spread and can taint people … can hurt people.”
Tabor, who said he worked overseas after college on education projects, declared at one point, “A system like this works on trust … When that trust is broken, that’s a very serious problem.”
The original situation surfaced at the Nov. 16 school board meeting, when a contingent of Mrs. Pestar’s fellow CSEA members and her son, Jeremy Denmeade, called the school board insensitive in sending a form letter to the cancer fighter denying her unpaid leave.
Over the next few days, it turned out the school board had come up with a better option for Mrs. Pestar that would give her a paid leave and continue her benefits. The letter on the unpaid leave being denied turned out to be a legal formality that Mrs. Pestar received before she was advised in person of the better option that had been structured for her.
At this evening’s meeting, Denmeade, a Marine, returned, and allowed that communications may not have been what they might have been. But he thanked the school board for what, in the end, turned out to be a considerate treatment of his mother.