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Gilmanton resident claims town official used phrase 'crayon-eater' to refer to special needs children

By BEA LEWIS
Union Leader Correspondent

September 15. 2018 11:21PM




GILMANTON - A comment allegedly made by a town official during a telephone conversation with a resident has spilled over into the political arena.

During an Aug. 27 selectmen's meeting, Lynn O'Connor asked the board to respond to her Aug. 10 letter in which she said Chairman Steve McWhinnie used the phrase "crayon-eaters," when referring to special needs children.

"This was not a private conversation, this was about public policy," she said, according to an audio recording of the board's Aug. 27 meeting posted on the town's website. "It is unfair, it is unjust. You have no right to serve as a public official and disgrace children in this community," she continued.

"That is what I'm asking the select board to do: To do their jobs, to respond to the public's letters in an appropriate manner and take appropriate action because it is an outrage, an absolute outrage."

O'Connor's 19-year-old daughter has an individualized education plan (IEP), a document that ensures a child who has a disability identified under the law receives specialized instruction and related services.

"This is my daughter. She is special needs and I assure you she is not a crayon-eater. So, I would like to see a response to my letter at least telling my why you want to brush this under the bus, claiming it was literally a private conversation," O'Connor said.

The conversation during which the remark was allegedly made came after O'Connor's husband, Ron, posted some comments on the town's Facebook page concerning the Four Corners intersection of Routes 107 and 140 and the need for people visiting the town offices to be screened via video camera before being buzzed into the building via a locked door.

McWhinnie texted Ron O'Connor after reading the comments and asked him to call so they could speak over the phone.

It was during that conversation on June 24, that McWhinnie, who serves on a subcommittee of the Gilmanton School Board studying high school options, allegedly said, "We are 100 percent behind getting students where they need to go. I mean, we aren't going to transport a crayon-eater to Manchester, but we will get someone with a chance at advancing their education the transportation they need," according to a letter from Ron O'Connor.

Lynn O'Connor overheard the comment and called McWhinnie back a few minutes later and an argument ensued.

McWhinnie sent Ron O'Connor a text message afterward saying, "Can you apologize to Lynn for me. Apparently, she didn't hear what I said prior to that."

Ron replied that his wife did not wish to speak to McWhinnie again.

"I am aware first-hand to special need kids. That's OK if she doesn't want to speak to me. What I do know is that in our conversation you know that there was no disrespect," McWhinnie responded via text.

During the Aug. 27 meeting, Ron O'Connor also spoke about his concern over terminology.

As the service manager for a Laconia car dealership for 32 years, O'Connor said that if he made a similar comment he would be "fired on the spot."

"I don't think a lot of people understand what saying the words 'crayon-eater' to someone who is special needs or what it does to the special needs community, especially from a public official," he said.

Assistant town manager Heather Carpenter said during the meeting that McWhinnie was not acting in his capacity as a selectman when he spoke to O'Connor, maintaining they can only act in their official capacity as a board.

"There is nothing in the RSAs that say (town officials) can't speak their minds. You can't ask someone to apologize for their own opinion," she said.

When reached by telephone, McWhinnie had no comment.


Education Politics Social issues Local and County Government Gilmanton


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