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Nashua reviews rules for political visits to schools

Union Leader Correspondent

June 09. 2015 11:16PM
This image taken from Facebook shows a post by soon-to-be Nashua mayoral candidate Chris Williams that sparked debate among members of the city's Board of Education over political visits to schools. 

The Board of Education reviewed its existing policy on school visits by politicians in the wake of a June 3 visit to Fairgrounds Middle School by Chris Williams, who stepped down from his former role as president of the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce in February to scope out a run in this year’s mayoral race.

Although no formal declaration of candidacy has taken place, Williams is expected to make his candidacy official on June 15.

Williams has been out on the campaign trail looking for opinions, support and donations, and last week, he spent the morning at Fairgrounds without the required approval from either Superintendent Mark Conrad or school Principal Michael Harrington.

School officials learned of the visit through Facebook when, halfway through his morning, Williams posted on his "Move Nashua Forward" page: “Spending my day at Fairgrounds Elementary School, learning more about Nashua’s schools. My favorite part thus far: the 1st grader who told me his favorite person is Olaf, ‘because Olaf likes warm hugs.’”

The live post from Fairgrounds was followed by a string of emails that questioned school administrators about Williams’ unapproved visit, and an email invitation he sent to teachers for what has been described as a “meet and greet.” And the questioning went beyond the emails.

Back on Facebook, Ward 9 Alderman Ken Siegel described William’s visit “absolutely beyond acceptable” in a post on his page.

“The schools are absolutely NO place to be doing politicking. They are for teaching our children. They are not a place to gather Facebook suitable campaign material,” wrote Siegel.

Some residents who added opinions to Siegel’s comments were hard on Williams for not going through the appropriate steps to schedule a visit. Others who supported Williams were happy to see a candidate in an actual classroom, while others felt local politics and politicians were prime academic material.

Williams did not respond to a request for comment about the visit.

Although some Board of Education members were concerned about the real-time update Williams posted on social media that seemed like campaigning, they also wanted to keep the door open to candidates and elected officials who may want to visit schools and explore educational issues.

“The last thing we want to do is discourage people from visiting classrooms to see what’s happening,” said BOE member Robert Hallowell.

Other BOE members were worried about the email Williams sent to teachers and staff.

“My main concern was the email, and the fact that the school email list was used to send out an invitation to a political forum,” said BOE member Dotty Oden.

Email addresses for all Nashua teachers are listed on the school website so that parents can contact them with questions and concerns about their children.

And BOE members also considered that the compliants about Williams’ visit may have been generated by people supporting other candidates or other views. In addition to requiring that candidates receive approval before school visits, the district’s policy also states that visits should not be disruptive for students or teachers, no campaign material can be handed out to students, teachers should separate their personal views when incorporating political figures into class lessons and discussions, and that all recognized candidates in a particular race receive an equal opportunity to address the school community. Conrad said he would contact the other official candidates in the mayoral race to offer them an opportunity to visit one of Nashua’s schools.

As of Monday, June 8, the first day of the filing period for the upcoming race, the Nashua City Clerk’s office had received petitions from three candidates, Michael Broderick, Doug Carroll and Daniel Moriarty. Williams and other candidates have until June 19 to file and join the race.

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