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School officials have to be open, proactive

Date: 2/8/2010

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

Here's one of the first rules of public relations: when a terrible event occurs, go before the press, explain what has happened and how your organization has reacted. The key is to be proactive.

You do not shift responsibility to another entity. You do not leave town. You do not hide.

Someone should have explained to South Hadley school administrators the only way to react to the suicide of Phoebe Prince was to announce the steps to prevent something like that from ever happening again in their district as well as how the students involved will be punished.

The point-at-the-other-guy attitude seen in South Hadley has not served anyone well.

I cannot imagine the grief this young woman's family is enduring. Nor can I imagine the grief that is still being endured by the family of the 11-year-old boy who committed suicide last year in Springfield due to bullying at the New Leadership Charter School.

I'm confused just why the South Hadley incident has received the national press it has. Is it more of a story then the Springfield suicide because this death took place in an upper middle class community known nationally as the home of the first American college for women?

I don't think so. Both are profound tragedies about a failure of a school environment.

My wife and I are foster parents to a wonderful young woman who has two children of her own now. We would be devastated if anything like this ever happened to our granddaughters.

To assure parents throughout the area every school official should be coming front and center to explain how their district treats bullying.
I was steeped in Republican politics this past weekend covering the Scott Brown appearance and the Charles Baker campaign stop so much so that one local Republican activist I know said I needed "detox."

No, I didn't race to Northampton and hang out among a bunch of liberals, sipping organic tea and listening to folk music. Instead I tried to get my wife to watch "Zombieland" with me.

I found both events to be very interesting. Brown spoke of being "everyone's senator" and I don't doubt his intentions. State Sen. Mike Knapik, a guy I respect, spoke very highly of Brown being his own man.

I wonder, though, if and when Brown votes on issues counter to the Republican line in the Senate if his conservative base will still accept him. Right now he is a rock star. He has temporarily eclipsed Sarah Palin on the national stage as the next great hope for the Republican Party she must be a little cheesed.

What will happen if he takes an action that gets on the wrong side of Limbaugh or FOX? What if Bill O'Reilly or Glenn Beck turns their rhetoric on him? Beck has already made some really stupid "jokes" about Brown.

Time will tell. Do people truly want an independent member of a party or do they actually want an ideologue? Independence can cut a variety of ways.

And time will also tell how Massachusetts voters will react to Baker's message of rebuilding the state's financial infrastructure, and lowering the sales and income tax to five percent. Will those meat and potato messages be obscured by Baker's selection of an openly gay state senator who has supported marriage equality in this state?

As someone who supports same sex marriage -- the biggest non-issue facing voters here -- I think Baker's choice was fairly courageous since there are plenty of people here who still object to gay marriage. I'm much more interested in how Baker is going to achieve his stated goal of turning the state into a more business friendly one and one in which jobs can be retained and grow.

If Gov. Patrick truly hopes for a second term, he will have to counter Baker's appeal to the citizen's wallets. The question will be how he can do that with his present record.

I, along with many others, will be listening.

This column represents the opinions of its author. Send your comments online to or to 280 North Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028.