Hancock Town Meeting Votes to Strike Meme Some Found 'Divisive'

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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Hancock town meeting members Monday vote on a routine item early in the meeting.
HANCOCK, Mass. — By the narrowest of margins Monday, the annual town meeting voted to strike from the town report messaging that some residents described as, "inflammatory," "divisive" and unwelcoming to new residents.
On a vote of 50-48, the meeting voted to remove the inside cover of the report as it appeared on the town website and in printed versions distributed prior to the meeting and at the elementary school on Monday night.
The text, which appeared to be a reprinted version of an Internet meme, read, "You came here from there because you didn't like it there, and now you want to change here to be like there. You are welcome here, only don't try to make here like there. If you want to make here like there, you shouldn't have left there in the first place."
After the meeting breezed through the first 18 articles on the town meeting warrant agenda with hardly a dissenting vote, a member rose to ask if it would be unreasonable for the meeting to vote to remove the meme under Article 19, the "other business" article.
"No, you cannot remove it," Board of Selectmen Chair Sherman Derby answered immediately.
After it became clear that Moderator Brian Fairbank would entertain discussion about the meme, Derby took the floor to address the issue that has been discussed in town circles since the report was printed earlier this spring.
"Let me tell you about something that happened this year," Derby said. "The School Department got rid of Christmas. And they got rid of Columbus Day. Now it's Indigenous People's Day.
"And they tried to get rid of the Community Christmas.
"[The meme] isn't directed at any specific person. If the shoe fits, wear it."
Hancock's Community Christmas, a town celebration held at the elementary school, is funded, in part, by an allocation of town funds. Monday's meeting approved a $500 allotment for the December event on Monday as part of Article 10 on the warrant.
Resident Bruce Weiner rose on the floor of the meeting to respond to Derby's statement.
"I recommended to the School Committee that they call their event a Holiday Concert," Weiner said. "It's a very personal thing for me. I'm Jewish."
Weiner said his own children who went through Hancock Elementary School were uncomfortable participating in a school Christmas concert and that a holiday event would be more inclusive.
"It's the same with Columbus Day," Weiner said. "There are folks who don't feel comfortable with Columbus Day, like Native Americans. We want to be more inclusive."
Derby told the meeting that members of the three-person Board of Selectmen attended the School Committee meeting where the holiday names were discussed and told the School Committee that it could not change the name "Community Christmas" because it was a town event, not a school event.
School Committee Chair Alex Kastrinakas took the floor to tell the meeting that, in fact, it was the School Committee itself that made the point at its meeting that it had no authority over Community Christmas and changing its name was never a consideration.
Mustafa Deen moved to strike the "you shouldn't have left there" meme from the town report, saying at one point that it was "offensive to so many people unnecessarily."
Another member speaking in support of the motion said those who defend the meme might feel differently some day if a different Board of Selectmen inserted political statements they do not agree with into the town report.
A couple of residents spoke in opposition to the motion, one indicating that it would be "facist" for the meeting to squelch the First Amendment rights of the Board of Selectmen to include any language they want in the town report.
Town Clerk Linda Burdick, who said she moved to Hancock "from there" for its "caring people" and low taxes, pointed out that there was nothing illegal about including the meme in the report.
"Just because you can do it, doesn't mean you should," another resident retorted from the floor.
In response to a question from the floor, the Board of Selectmen, seated on the stage at the front of the auditorium, confirmed that the entire body had approved the contents of the town report, including the meme.
Don Leab asked from the floor whether a motion to amend the town report as suggested was legal because it was not specifically called out in the meeting warrant. Fairbank said that, in his opinion, the issue was a valid question for the meeting.
About 15 minutes into the meeting, Selectman Don Rancatti interrupted a speaker in support of the motion to ask Fairbank to call the question. And Fairbank called for a vote to close debate, which passed overwhelmingly.
It took two rounds of votes by a show of hands to verify the vote totals, but, in the end, Burdick confirmed a 50-48 vote in favor of removing the meme.
The meeting was attended by 115 of 572 registered voters in the town, about 20 percent.
After the decision was made, Burdick said in answer to questions from members that the meme would be removed from the PDF version of the report on the town's website and pulled from the official copy that is sent to the State Library in Boston.
The only other article on the warrant to generate significant discussion on Monday was Article 18, a home rule petition to exempt Hancock from a state law forcing districts, like Hancock, without a secondary school to be financially responsible for the middle and high school education of pupils who attend the district's elementary school under the state's School Choice program.
Hancock Superintendent Rebecca Phillips explained the issue to the meeting and said there are encouraging signs that the petition could succeed on Beacon Hill.
"We have a lot of support from our legislators but, also, the Department of Education is comfortable with this exemption," Phillips told the meeting.

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On a IV-II Vote, Mount Greylock Keeps Latin Program

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — A divided Mount Greylock Regional School Committee on Tuesday voted to restore the middle-high school's Latin program for the 2024-25 academic year and beyond.
Six members of the committee attended the special meeting called last week to decide on whether to keep Mount Greylock a two-world language school or only offer Spanish to incoming seventh-graders starting in the fall.
Steven Miller moved at the outset of Tuesday's session that the School Committee utilize more or less $66,000 from the committee's reserves to close a funding gap for fiscal year 2025 and commit to funding Latin until at least next year's seventh-graders have the opportunity to take Advanced Placement Latin, presumably in their senior year of 2029-30.
Miller was joined by Jose Constantine, Curtis Elfenbein and Ursula Maloy in voting in favor of the plan. Christina Conry and Carolyn Greene voted against Miller's motion.
Conry noted that in the school year that just ended, Mount Greylock had just 58 students enrolled in Latin across six different grade levels (an average of just fewer than 10 per grade), as opposed to 300 students studying Spanish.
Prior to this spring's announcement that the school would not offer Latin 7 (for seventh-graders) or Latin 8 in 2024-25, there were 15 students signed up for the former and just 10 for the latter.
Historically, over the last nine years, Mount Greylock's student population studying the classic language went from 103 in 2015-16 to 58 last year, with a spike of 148 in the 2018-19 academic year, according to figures the administration provided the School Committee on Tuesday.
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