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Emotions run high among Concord-Carlisle parents at meeting about school's controversial 9/11 remembrance

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  September 17, 2013 09:45 PM

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Emotions in Concord-Carlisle High School's auditorium ran high Tuesday night as local parents and students took turns both berating and defending administrators for reciting a poem by a Muslim author over the school's intercom on this year's 9/11 anniversary, but not the Pledge of Allegiance.

Nearly 100 parents attended the forum that administrators organized to publicly apologize for the ordeal, as well as to hear from community members about the incident.

"It was a gross oversight," principal Peter Badalament said at the forum. "The intent was never meant to offend anybody, but I am now well aware of the fact that this is deeply offensive... Even though the poem has a message of tolerance, one of reasons I'm regretful is because we did it on that day."

During last week's anniversary of 9/11, officials decided to read the poem, Mohja Kahf's "My Grandmother Washes Her Feet in the Sink of the Bathroom at Sears," to promote "cross-cultural understanding." The Pledge of Allegiance was not read because of a mixup with the student reader, Badalament said in a statement last Thursday.

Badalament also sent home a letter to parents Sunday apologizing for the incident, calling the decision "inexcusable" and the result of "poor judgment."

On Tuesday night, however, half the speakers at the event said the apology was not enough. Some called for Badalament's resignation; others insisted he at least be disciplined in some manner by the School Committee.

"My daughters were troubled by what they heard," said Concord resident Ellen Rice. "At CCHS, there has not been a moment of silence yet. I understand you apologized, but we still have not honored all those who had died."

Others said they were disgruntled by the administration's "dismissive" attitude when parents first approached the school's leaders, citing unclear responses when they asked for an explanation, or no response at all to emails sent last week.

Some parents called for better planning for 9/11 remembrances in the future, noting especially the Al Filipov Peace and Justice Forum planned for Sept. 21. The event commemorates the memory of a Concord resident whose plane crashed into one of the towers in 2001.

"There’s a lot of things leading up to that anniversary," said Jay Rush. "I'm left scratching my head, wondering to what extent that was discussed amongst your staff."

However, other parents -- and a student -- said not only do they accept the administrators' apologies, but said they weren't necessary to begin with.

"I don't understand the anger -- it's really quite astounding," said Julio Gagne. "Obviously this was a misunderstanding, and there was good intent by the principal to try and teach our kids something."

"Both my daughters were profoundly moved by the poem," said Concord resident Augusta Heywood. "I found the poem to be about inclusion and things that join us together. For me, that was a profound message."

Vineet Chandra, a senior at the high school and student senate moderator, said he and many other students have discussed the subject with Badalament, and are hoping to lay the issue to rest.

"There is no doubt that he [Badalament] understands how this was done incorrectly, and we as students just want to move on," Chandra said. "I ask all of you tonight to let us get on with our education."

Follow Jaclyn Reiss on Twitter: @jaclynreiss

Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at

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