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Students ask why board ousted Bakr

By John Dyer
Globe Correspondent / February 19, 2012
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When Lindsay Perdue wanted to drop out of Marlborough High School after enduring bullying and then suffering an illness that kept her out of classes for 84 days, she sought advice from assistant principal Adam Bakr.

“He really gave me the motivation to go back and try,’’ said Perdue, 19, who earned her diploma in 2011 and now studies at Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester. “He’s the reason I graduated. I can definitely say he changed my life.’’

Now Perdue, who spoke at a meeting of the Marlborough School Committee on Tuesday, said she was returning the favor by asking officials to explain why Bakr mysteriously disappeared from the halls of her alma mater about two months ago.

Joining Perdue at the meeting were 30 current high school students and parents who said Bakr was the most beloved of administrators in the city’s high school. Wearing T-shirts and holding signs that read “Bring Bakr Back,’’ “Bakr is MHS,’’ and similar messages, members of the group said Bakr was at work one day in late December and gone the next without explanation. They wanted to know why he suddenly disappeared and why officials wouldn’t explain his absence.

Superintendent Anthony Pope, Mayor Arthur Vigeant - who also serves as chairman of the school committee - and school committee members said they couldn’t discuss the issue because it is a personnel matter.

Bakr could not be reached for comment. Students said he has been put on administrative leave, but officials wouldn’t confirm that assertion. City Comptroller Tom Abel said Bakr was still receiving his $105,400 annual salary.

“This is an issue that needs to be taken care of internally,’’ said Vigeant, who along with other committee members allowed the students to speak even though Bakr’s employment status wasn’t on the evening’s agenda.

Before the meeting, Vigeant praised the students’ organizing skills.

“The kids did a great job on a lobbying effort,’’ he said. “They were close to him. They’re concerned.’’

High school senior Cairo Mendes was one of the organizers.

“They took out Mr. Bakr out of nowhere. We just don’t know why. They won’t tell us,’’ said Mendes, 18, who said speculation about Bakr’s disappearance was buzzing throughout the school community. “This is a man’s reputation on the line.’’

Mendes created an online petition calling for Bakr to be reinstated that has garnered more than 400 signatures. Nearly 600 Facebook subscribers have indicated they “like’’ a Facebook page created by Rebeca Mulin, a 17-year-old senior, to support Bakr.

Shortly before the committee convened, 20 students gathered on Main Street and marched a few blocks with their signs to attend the meeting at the Early Childhood Center on Washington Street.

Students were highly critical of Pope’s handling of questions about Bakr’s absence, saying he’d been disrespectful and dismissive of their concerns in two recent meetings where he discussed Bakr with students at the high school.

“A number of us felt personally disrespected by the way he spoke,’’ Mulin told the School Committee. “He did not communicate but instead lectured us and made us feel very intimidated and also threatened by the tone of his voice.’’

Mendes said Pope told a student to “get out of my face’’ during an encounter with students who had staged a sit-in protest in support of Bakr in a corridor of the high school. Pope threatened to suspend the student, but ultimately the punishment wasn’t carried out, said Mendes.

Speaking to reporters after the School Committee meeting, Pope disputed Mulin’s and Mendes’s depictions of the encounter. “I absolutely didn’t tell a kid to get out of my face,’’ said Pope. “That was totally made up.’’

Students need to understand that, by law, he couldn’t disclose details about Bakr’s job status, Pope said. “They aren’t being given the answer they want,’’ he said. “A lot of it is emotionally charged.’’

At the Tuesday meeting, a member of the Marlborough High School Council, a panel of students, parents, and residents who advise administrators, said he thought Pope or another official should give some explanation as to Bakr’s departure.

“This seems to be taking an unduly long period,’’ said George Whapham, who is Perdue’s grandfather. “That’s what is feeding all the interest here.’’

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