The auditorium at Concord-Carlisle High School was uncomfortable Tuesday evening, as community members gathered to hear school officials apologize publicly for the handling of 9/11’s 12th anniversary last week at CCHS.
A few dozen residents of Concord, Carlslie and at least one surrounding town listened as CCHS Principal Peter Badalament and Superintendent Diana Rigby read prepared remarks, and then several audience members pitched in with two cents of their own.
Over the past week, members of the local and national communities have criticized the way CCHS began the school day last Wednesday by reading the poem "My Grandmother Washes Her Feet in the Sink of the Bathroom at Sears" and omitting the Pledge of Allegiance.
Reading the poem was a conscious decision meant to promote cross-cultural understanding, according to school officials. That the daily Pledge of Allegiance was not said that morning was due to the administration’s failure to realize the student who typically leads the pledge was out at his internship that morning.
Speaking in the CCHS auditorium on Sept. 17 was first public apology from Rigby, who opened by apologizing for “the poor judgment shown by Principal Badalament and his administrative team.” It was the third from Badalament, who almost exactly stuck to the script of his second apology, the one posted to the district’s website on Sunday, Sept. 15.
Watch the videos above to hear the remarks from Badalament and Rigby.
There wasn’t much new information revealed during the question-and-answer/comments period following the apologies. However, one new piece came up when Badalament revealed an assistant principal picked the poem and that he read it before it was recited on Sept. 11, but did not brief the school staff.
“We typically do sound things off each other,” Badalament said, calling the lack of advanced notice about the poem on of the “biggest mistakes.”
One hundred or so community members attended the forum, and opinions were split fairly evenly -- among those who spoke anyway.
Some were outraged by the 9/11 commemoration, some by the omission of the Pledge of Allegiance, and some by the administration’s response. A few even called for Badalament to resign, or at least for some form of discipline by the School Committee.
“There have to be consequences for bad judgment,” said Jay Rush, the parent of a CCHS senior and a recent graduate. “I don’t consider this forum that consequence.”
Some among the angry used animated language and made colorful comparisons. Like equating the reading of a poem by a Muslim on the anniversary of 9/11 to a love song a funeral, or to a poem about the struggles of a White Supremacist on MLK Day.
“You wouldn’t read Japanese poetry on Pearl Harbor Day,” said Mike Farquhar, an Acton resident. “Why in the heck would you read a Muslim poem on 9/11 in Concord, a mile-and-a-half from the North Bridge?”
But as many who spoke were ready to accept the apology, with some of them saying the poem had a worthwhile message even if it lacked the proper context in light of the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
One father said he was surprised to have a conversation about something positive that happened during the school day with his daughter, when she came home and told him about the poem. Another parent said her daughters were deeply moved by the poem, which they understood to be about tolerance.
CCHS Senior Vineet Chandra, the moderator for the student senate, said his classmates understand that the 9/11 commemoration was done incorrectly, but they are now ready to move on as students.
“We want to just move on and we want this to end,” said Chandra. “I ask all of you tonight to let us go on with our education. … When we come back here, we have quizzes and tests everyday. We don’t have time for this anymore.”
A few of the speakers also called for more emphasis to be put on daily recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance. And some suggested political correctness and progressive thinking could be compromising patriotism in Concord.
“The kumbaya mentality is nice," said Tim Reardon. "But Dec. 7 we hold sacred in America. In Concord, we hold April 19. These are remembrance days.”
Reardon was one of a handful of speakers to mention knowing Al Filipov, a Concord resident who was killed Sept. 11, 2001 when his plane crashed into one of the towers at the World Trade Center.
Another speaker, in considering alternative ways to commemorate 9/11, noted the upcoming Al Filipov Peace and Justice Forum, an annual event started by Filipov's wife, Loretta, as a way to honor her husband's memory.
This year’s forum will be held at 7 p.m. this Saturday, Sept. 21, and will honor Arizona journalist Margaret Regan as its speaker and recipient of the 2013 Al Filipov Peace & Justice award. Regan is being honored for her work reporting on the deaths of migrants along the US-Mexico border, including her 2010 book, “The Death of Josseline: Immigration Stories from the Arizona Borderlands.”