PITTSFIELD, Mass. — School administrators have ruled a field trip to hear a notorious triple-murder case is not appropriate for high school education.
"This is gruesome, and on a human level, no matter who did it, this is horrid and it's awful," Superintendent of Schools Jason McCandless said. "I think there are many other opportunities to support kids learning about the judicial system without exposing students to this particular trial, and this particular series of events, at taxpayer expense."
Taconic High School students had hoped to view a portion of the ongoing trial of Adam Lee Hall, who along with two other suspects has been accused of the brutal murder of three local men in 2011.
The proposed trip was the result of planning with the district attorney's office, which is prosecuting the case in Springfield, to allow two classes, "Juvenile Issues," taught by Daniel Keegan, and "American Law," taught by John Flynn, to attend the trial to show students how legal procedures studied in class would operate in such a case.
McCandless said the teachers "are really thinking that this is an extraordinary opportunity to see the justice system at work." But the superintendent, despite hearing concerns from several parents and at least one student about denying the trip, is standing firm. "This is a horrendous event."
Prosecutors say the three victims were kidnapped, tortured, murdered, hacked up and buried on Aug. 29, 2011.
Senior Kylie Mason, 18, has challenged the administration's decision, expressing disappointment with the immediate denial of the idea.
"The purpose of the field trip was, one, to be part of a landmark case, because this is a really big case, and the other aspect was to let us see what we've been learning in action," said Mason.
Mason said her understanding was that students would be intentionally steered away from particularly graphic testimony. The date and time was being arranged by the district attorney's office in such a way that the classes would hear evidence and procedures not specifically related to the circumstances of the triple homicide.
McCandless said he has no doubt that students at this age are exposed to comparably graphic material regularly, and information about the most unsettling particulars of this case are widely available in local media, but "that doesn't mean we are obligated to support it as a school system."
"I am less concerned about students' ability to handle this," McCandless said. "It's not a fear that they couldn't handle it."
Mason said the students in her class were disappointed with the verdict, and were looking for a clearer response about why the trip would not take place.
"Our entire class was excited about it, and we all checked with our parents, and then Mr. Keegan requested it," said Mason, at which time the suggestion was quickly nixed by Assistant Superintendent N. Tracey Crowe.
"I just decided that wasn't fair," said Mason, on deciding to take further action to find out why the trip had been denied. "If she was going to deny us, I wanted a fool-proof answer."
Mason said she been unsuccessful in speaking to either Crowe or McCandless about her concerns, prompting her to contact local media. She thought a possible concern might be fears of exposing students to a trial that has been portrayed in some media as having a "gang-related" connotation, through the association of suspect Adam Lee Hall's alleged association with the Hells Angels.
"The Hells Angels doesn't even really support the guy that's on trial," a skeptical Mason said. "I just think it's a little wiggy."
"I think that this represents some of the worst of man's inhumanity to man, that we can experience locally, and I don't want to support that, with our public school's name, with our students, or with our funds," McCandless said, noting that the denial was based on this sense of inappropriateness rather than on any costs. "I don't view this as a spectator sport. These were lives that were taken, and lives that are going to continue to be impacted."
Nonetheless, Mason said, "the principal of our school was completely behind this, and wants to go himself to the trial."
Taconic Principal Jon Vosburgh did not return a call seeking comment.
"Instead of just reading it out of a book, or seeing it on 'Law & Order,' we'd be actually watching it happen in front of us," lamented Mason. "It may not be as dramatic as most of us would hope, but I still think it would be interesting to see how it actually works, in real life."
McCandless said any parent can take their child to the public proceeding in Springfield, if they feel strongly enough about its educational value, but suggested other, less extreme criminal proceedings would be better suited to the goals of the proposed field trip.
"In good conscience, as much as I get it, and I think that this was put forth with the best of intentions, I cannot support it," said McCandless. "Sometimes I get paid to make decisions that are not going to popular, and that's OK."
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