To our community,
A series of incidents that occurred earlier this month involving a young student at the Merriam Elementary School has now gained significant public attention.
First and foremost, the Town’s deepest concerns are for the welfare of this student and their family.
Second, we understand that the public and media are concerned about this incident and want more information about the actions of the school and police officials. There is little in the way of specific information that we as municipal officials can convey to the public about this deeply unfortunate set of circumstances, and even less that we can say without jeopardizing the privacy of the child involved –and the wellbeing of a child in one of our schools is paramount at all times. That said, in the interests of transparency, in an effort to openly and honestly engage the community, and consistent with our obligation under the Public Records Act, we intend to release the Acton police reports from this matter (with legally-required redactions), and we wanted to make this public comment.
Here is what we know and can disclose. On January 9, the Acton Police Department was called to the Merriam School for the third consecutive day to evaluate a student. On the prior two days, the Acton school resource officer was able to resolve the situation with staff and family assistance. However, on January 9th, the situation had escalated to the point where the school officials became concerned about the student’s and staff’s safety.
The child’s parent had also come to the school, and over a period of nearly a half hour, officers, firefighters/medics, faculty, the school psychologist and the child’s mother talked with the child in an attempt to deescalate and calm the situation. Ultimately, based on the circumstances in front of them, the Acton Police officers on scene made the difficult but sometimes necessary decision to refer the child for a medical evaluation. This led to a disagreement with the student’s parent as to the necessary course of action. The disagreement escalated and the student’s parent was arrested for disorderly conduct.
These are not easy situations for anyone involved, particularly where a concern about racial bias has been raised. In light of that, the Town (separate and apart from the School) has taken and continues to take the following actions:
• Follow-up by the Acton Police Department with the family on numerous occasions, including in person meetings with the family;
• Facilitation of available community services for the family through Acton Community Services Coordinator Laura Ducharme; and
• Availability of Family Services Officer Mike Eracleo to provide services to the family.
Given the extent of public input regarding this matter, and to be as transparent as possible, the Town has also hired an independent investigator to conduct a holistic review of the situation, including the incidents on Jan. 7-9 and to review the actions of the Action Police Department. To the extent legally-possible, we will make the findings of that investigation public.
Town officials stand prepared to answer any questions we can (understanding we have some legal constraints). Our doors are open either in person, by phone or by email. If you have questions or concerns, please bring them to our attention. Additionally, the Acton Boxborough School District is hosting a community conversation tonight (January 30th) at 7:30 p.m. in the High School Auditorium and town officials will be attending to support efforts and listen to the community.
It is our sincere hope that this statement and the release of the police reports will shed light on the situation to provide a more full explanation of the circumstances surrounding the events on January 9th, while maintaining the delicate balance required for student privacy. We aim to have the independent investigation completed as quickly as possible and, with that investigation in hand, we will evaluate next steps.