An Open Letter to Dr. Peter Sanchioni, Natick Superintendent of Schools

In which the Natick School Department is called to task for attempting to influence voters.

Dear Dr. Sanchioni,

 As the parent of a fifth grader, I regularly receive communications from the Natick School Department. Most of these I find useful and informative, as they relate directly to my daughter, her schooling, and the events that surround that schooling.

 What they do not involve, however, is the School Department effectively taking a political position on a pending ballot measure, and using its public funding and mouthpiece to advocate for its own viewpoint on that ballot measure. 

Until this morning, that is. 

Today, I received an email which linked to Natick Together for Youth, an advocacy group on the issue of Drug Free Schools.  In particular, it linked to a non-objective “information sheet” on ballot measure #3, which would legalize medical use of marijuana for individuals who meet certain medical criteria. This organization—and particularly the “information sheet” to which the email linked—have a strong position against the ballot measure.

 Allow me to be clear—my problem with the School Department’s email has nothing to do with my feelings on Ballot Measure 3, about which I have no strong feelings in one direction or another.  However, I do have very strong feelings about the School Department--a public institution entrusted with providing unbiased, objective education to the students of the town—making use of both public funds and a mailing list which should only be used for the dissemination of materials directly relevant to the schooling of these students to attempt to influence the outcome of the election. 

This is especially egregious considering that individuals in Natick vote in the public schools. As residents, we are not allowed to wear buttons supporting candidates or ballot measures into the voting booth, but we are expected to vote in an institution which itself takes positions on those measures?  This is unacceptable.

 Politics is not the purview of the School Department, and as such, an immediate retraction of the email and an apology to all Natick residents should be issued—as well as a pledge that the School Department will no longer participate in electioneering.


Ben Jackson



CC: Natick Board of Selectmen

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Paul Lothridge October 03, 2012 at 12:32 PM
Here, here. Thank you, Ben, for writing this well articulated note and saving me the trouble. Honestly, if I had had the time the other day when I received the email I would have written it myself (perhaps not as well, I might add).
Erica Kaswell October 03, 2012 at 02:21 PM
Ben, well written. Thank you for saying everything I was thinking! -Erica
Ben Jackson October 03, 2012 at 02:44 PM
Thanks, Paul and Erica - I would encourage you both to also write to Dr. Sanchioni. The only response I got was a boilerplate "Thanks for your feedback."
Paul Lothridge October 03, 2012 at 02:53 PM
Gladly. With your permission, I will paraphrase your note.
Ben Jackson October 03, 2012 at 02:54 PM
Thanks for asking, and please do!
Amy DeSouza October 03, 2012 at 03:02 PM
Ben you rock!! I too was offended by the email. Thanks for your letter and I agree completely!!!
BJ October 03, 2012 at 04:57 PM
Yes. When I got that email I was outraged. Ben you are the proactive one. I just complained in my head..
D.C. al Fine October 03, 2012 at 06:01 PM
This post represents my views as a citizen, and cannot be assumed to represent the Natick School Committee or any other member. --Dirk Coburn
D.C. al Fine October 03, 2012 at 06:12 PM
Let me try that again. The materials called on citizens to seek and to consider information relevant to the ballot question. They did not request anyone to take a particular position. However, the school system does have an interest in the topic. That interest is backed up with a person whose job is to reduce use, and with other positions whose responsibilities include assisting in that job. The last referendum increased the challenge involved in promoting drug-free schools, as mandated by the state and federal governments. The experience in California shows that access to and use of marijuana for recreational purposes increased greatly when that state adopted legal access to medical marijuana. Frankly, the School Committee can hold a hearing and take a position on any matter of public policy that affects the schools, and it would not be out of bounds to do so in this case -- but it has not done so. Instead, a group whose mission relates to the drug-free mandate has distributed informational literature -- completely appropriately. I speak here not for the School committee but for myself. This post represents my views as a citizen, and cannot be assumed to represent the Natick School Committee or any other member. --Dirk Coburn
Ben Jackson October 03, 2012 at 06:29 PM
Dick - To call the information that was distributed simply "informational literature," and imply that it simply calls for greater consideration is, frankly, disingenuous. I will note that the link on the page now goes to the secretary of state informational page, which is more appropriate as it presents both sides of the argument. This was not what was linked when the email was sent yesterday - which was a pdf, highly critical of the bill - couched in language which sneakily tried to make it look objective but what was, in fact, propoganda against it. To make the case that the school department has an interest in the state regulating distribution of medical marijuana to seriously ill residents is a stretch - but even given that, if the school department simply wanted to ask voters to consider the effects of this ballot measure (again, which I feel is entirely inappropriate for the government to do), then providing a link directly to the Secretary of the Commonwealth's voter info page would have sufficed. Voters could have considered both sides of an issue. Instead, it clearly overstepped its bounds, and should be held accountable thusly.
Ben Jackson October 03, 2012 at 06:29 PM
Thanks, Amy and BJ - and I encourage you to let Dr. Sanchioni, the School Committee, and the Board of Selectmen know your feelings on the matter.
Ben Jackson October 03, 2012 at 06:39 PM
While I would like to be able to update the above, there does not appear to be an "Edit Blog Post." So - I did receive a more substantial reply from Dr. Sanchioni today, as follows: Mr. Jackson, As Superintendent, I provide regular training to our administrative team regarding the use of governmental resources for political purposes. Thus, it is a rare instance when we cross that line. Natick Together for Youth is an outstanding organization working for the betterment of our community and schools. The inclusion of information regarding Ballot Question 3, although meant to be neutral and certainly created out of good intentions, has been removed from all electronic sources associated with the Natick Public Schools. Sincerely, Dr. Sanchioni -- Peter Sanchioni, Ph.D. Superintendent Natick Public Schools 13 East Central Street Natick, MA 01760 I'd like to publicly thank Dr. Sanchioni for his response, and would encourage you to do the same.
D.C. al Fine October 03, 2012 at 07:30 PM
I evidently clicked the link after the change had been made. If the originally linked page was of the nature of explicit advocacy, then I understand the concern expressed and it was right to change the link. Issue advocacy should not be done on behalf of the interests of a public school system without a vote of the district's school committee.
Ben Jackson October 03, 2012 at 07:32 PM
Thanks, Dick - when I started the comment above, I did not yet realize the link had been changed. I should have edited my opening paragraph after reading it, and neglected to do so. Regardless, thanks for reading, and for your input.
D.C. al Fine October 03, 2012 at 07:35 PM
Thank you Ben. I would be obliged if in future conversations here or elsewhere you would use the name -- Dirk -- that I posted above and that I go by. you are not the first to misread it or to assume that it is a typo.
Ben Jackson October 03, 2012 at 07:37 PM
Yikes - I most certainly did misread. Apologies, and thanks for the correction.
Susan Manning October 11, 2012 at 01:42 PM
Ben: In the future if you want to update, you can always either email me (susan.manning@patch.com) or post a new blog linking to the old one. But thank you for the update and the blog!


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