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Emotions high as School Committee candidates debate again

by | Apr 29, 2023 | Featured: News, News

The three candidates for the two available seats on the School Committee appeared in a debate Friday to illustrate their different perspectives as voters prepare to vote in the Annual Town Election on Monday, May 15.

This debate, cosponsored by HCAM and HopNews, was the first time all the candidates appeared together to share their perspectives. Two days earlier, candidates Ashley Fogg and Susan Stephenson faced off while Munroe was out of state at a work conference.

At the Hopkinton Women’s Club Meet the Candidates forum on Wednesday night, Fogg had spoken about her being an unenrolled candidate, whereas her two competitors are Democrats, a point she continued to stress throughout Friday’s forum. The event also focused on how candidates would respond to issues regarding LGBTQ, nonbinary and transgender students. Fogg noted that there are state regulations regarding these populations that School Committee members are required to follow, and that conversations should be held with the students, parents and school personnel as concerns arise.

Fogg said she was attacked on Facebook after Wednesday night’s event by people who claim that she is homophobic, which she called unfair and untrue.

“I’m here because I deeply care about the students and the people who populate them,” she said in her closing statement. “Running for public office is not for the faint of heart.”

Fogg noted that her first campaign last year was “an incredibly difficult experience.” She said she didn’t intend to run for a seat again but was approached to do so by “two sitting School Committee members” whom she did not name.

“Those who are closest to my campaign can attest that I have been in a near constant attack, specifically in the last 24 hours,” she said as she tried to hold back tears. “I have been publicly accused of being homophobic, transphobic and racist.”

Said Fogg: “Let me be ultra clear to everyone — I love all of your kids. Anyone saying anything to the contrary is trying to smear my name and my reputation. I have total respect for all parents to raise and support their kids how they think is best.”

As Fogg concluded her remarks, fellow candidate Adam Munroe handed her a tissue.

At that point, Stephenson said to Fogg that she was sorry if anyone has been attacking her.

“I do not believe any of those things about you either,” Stephenson said. “I have heard you speak. I would never in my life thought that you were any of those things.”

Stephenson added that the love of learning is the greatest gift one can give a child, and that being an educator in Pennsylvania for 36 years helped her motivate generations of young learners.

Munroe addressed how he overcame his challenges of coming from a “much undereducated family” where neither his parents nor his grandparents completed high school. His mother’s encouragement instilled in him a love of learning that inspired him to become an educator in the nursing field and to pursue his doctorate in nursing education.

Issues discussed

Topics at the debate, moderated by HCAM news director Tom Nappi and HopNews editor Peter Thomas, ranged from the issues candidates hoped to change in the school system as well as their respective skill sets that equip them to address the broad range of challenges that have arisen in response to the pandemic and social justice issues.

Fogg said what distinguishes her from the other candidates is that she is involved in the school system as a member of two PTOs and a parent volunteer in one of her children’s classrooms, giving her personal insight into the needs of students. Stephenson stressed her “broad knowledge of education” and communication skills as factors that make her a compelling candidate. She gave an example of how she helped teachers from two schools transition smoothly when some were shifted to a newly opened school during her tenure in Pennsylvania. Munroe stressed three “interconnected” qualities he possesses: a “proven track record” of leadership, compassion and analysis as an educator and member of the Board of Assessors.

Stephenson brought up the impact of social media on students, noting that online bullying has led to students she previously knew taking their own lives. She referred to social media as now being “the bully in the hallway,” and policies need to be updated to address bullying in the digital realm. In her previous position, she helped create a pilot student assistance program for the state of Pennsylvania, she said.

Said Stephenson: “When this happens in a school community, it destroys the whole community.”

As a public behavioral health nurse, Munroe said he has encountered students who self-harm, a socioemotional concern he hopes to address if he is elected.

“The signs are all there, and they’re around us all the time,” he continued. He hopes to develop programs to educate families, school personnel and the public about these signs and how to address them before a crisis happens.

Fogg stressed her legal background and ability to negotiate as key qualifications. Her goal on the School Committee would be “to stand in the gap as an independent thinker,” raising again her belief that party affiliation currently plays a role in the campaign and on the committee itself. She noted that Hopkinton is only one of eight communities in the state that requires that a political affiliation be declared.

Munroe and Stephenson challenged Fogg on her assumption.

Said Stephenson: “Simply because I’m a Democrat does not mean the Democrats tell me what to do, what to say, what to think. Our job is to see what’s best for the children — our most precious commodity.”

Added Munroe: “First and foremost, I find it kind of appalling that we’re talking partisan politics here when we’re talking about our children.”

Fogg asked why they choose to have that affiliation if it doesn’t matter to the position, noting that she is running her campaign from her living room.

Changes to current system offered

Munroe said curriculum changes need to be made to reflect diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) throughout all subjects and grade levels. As a current college educator, he is required to do so in his position, where there is a DEI graduation competency provision.

Fogg stressed the challenges between the district and Hopkinton SEPAC (Special Education Parent Advisory Council) regarding previously proposed budget cuts to special education services that arose this winter, saying that she would work toward restoring positive relations. As the population continues to expand, the demand for these services will increase. She also noted that the population’s diversity has increased over the past decade, which she called a benefit to the community.

Stephenson said the district is dealing with challenges that couldn’t have been imagined before the pandemic. She also praised Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh for addressing the nuances of these challenges at Thursday night’s School Committee meeting. One of the issues she would address is the needs of transgender and nonbinary students.

Thomas noted that only 33% of Hopkinton households have a student in the public schools, but 72% of the town’s budget goes toward the schools. He asked how the candidates could justify that to residents without schoolchildren. Stephenson noted that people previously supported those residents when they were students because of the way the system is designed and pointed out that the district has chosen outstanding administrators and teachers. All candidates considered education a public benefit that the entire community should support.

9 Comments

  1. Krissy Canastar

    I would like to respectfully ask for proof of these attacks and the terms the article referenced. To be clear, if anyone has unjustly accused Ashley of being homophobic, transphobic or racist publicly, is without question wrong to do so. They are serious accusations with serious consequences and should not be taken lightly.

    I have written and read some of the social media posts I believe Ashley is referring to. I cannot speak to her personal page as we are not “friends” on Facebook, I can only speak to the posts I have first hand knowledge of and I welcome anyone to view these posts. I have scoured them and from what I have read, there has been zero name calling, character attacks or attacks of any kind. If there had been the administrators of the FB page in question would have removed them immediately and addressed the issue.
    What I have read and written are questions asked of Ashley that were specific, direct, and respectful regarding a few of her comments at the Women’s Club debate. These questions included issues surrounding gender affirming care as opposed to tolerance and books available in Hopkinton Public Schools that she said concerned her as a parent. Many people went to her campaign page and asked her to clarify those statements. In response Ashley either deleted the entire post, or “cherry picked” the comments. She then blocked people (including me) that asked these questions. Following this action several people tool the discussion to one of the towns group Facebook page The conversations have remained respectful and civil.

    Ashley has the right to block or delete anything she wants from her page. However, those rights do not come without consequence and in this case, deflecting and refusing not to answer questions from residents, gave way to added concern about her positions. Blocking voters for asking clarifying questions about comments you made is not bullying. Bullying is when one seeks to harm, intimidate or coerce someone they perceive as vulnerable.

    Given the events that are taking place in states like Florida and Texas, asking these types of questions are not only important but necessary. Positions of power come with responsibility and when one is running for a public office that holds a certain amount of power in the lives of children, residents have a right to ask questions and as voters we deserve answers.

  2. Adam Munroe

    Good evening all. I was hoping to take a brief moment to clarify one point in the article. I am NOT a public health nurse. I AM a behavioral health nurse. One specific difference is that, as a behavioral health nurse, I often see patients that are in acute behavioral health crisis. I see firsthand the direct, and sometimes tragic implications of children, struggling with mental health issues. Often times my role finds me caring for children with suicidal thoughts or actions or self injurious behaviors. I have bore witness to the direct and indirect consequences this has on the children, families, and greater community.
    I felt it appropriate to point out the crucial difference in my role.

  3. Susan Stephenson

    I would like to clarify that I did not create a student assistance program, but was part of a team that created and implemented a pilot program.

  4. Terry O’Brien

    I appreciate the coverage the Independent has provided on both the Debate and Meet the Candidates Night. Krissy Canastar, your comments are spot on about the need for voters to have the opportunity to have answers to questions. The voters of Hopkinton have a right to expect transparency from our local elected officials and if candidates are unwilling to provide transparency about their views ahead of the election, we should be questioning why not. The people we elect and whatever values, skills and experience they bring to the table will impact our educational system for at least the next three years, but potentially much longer.

    I am reading that Ashley was a member of the Youth Commission briefly. Does anyone know the circumstances around which she was unable or unwilling to complete her term of service? I’m asking because her ability or inability to serve in that capacity could potentially impact her willingness to serve on a larger board like the School Committee. Was there an issue that prompted her to leave prematurely? Or was it an issue of not having enough to time to serve? I would like to know whether or not her inability/unwillingness to complete her commitment there is a potential issue in her ability to serve on our School Committee.

  5. Margie Wiggin

    As someone who votes person, not party, I hope Democrats in town aren’t pushing for a Democrat tonwin and disregarding Ashley Fogg’s obvious qualifications and passion to help our schools. While Susan Stephenson and Adam Munroe are also qualified, I believe Ashley Fogg to be the best person for the
    School Committee spot. I also believe balanced representation is best in town, and hope whoever is harassing Ashley can stop and look at their motives. Are their actions truly best for town?

    • Heather

      Margie Wiggin, as you said Adam & Susan are both qualified so why does it matter if they are Dem, Rep, Libertarian, Green party or even the Pizza party – they are indeed qualified.
      Ashley has been asked direct questions, avoids answering, deletes and blocks residents’ concerns including the president of the teacher’s union in town. This is not harassment it is concerned parents and educators deserving of straight honest answers to questions.
      As a very concerned parent of a bisexual child her lack of transparency is alarming. Her obvious qualifications are as an invested parent like many of us, not an educational professional. As a paralegal she may bring some expertise to the table but not enough to warrant my vote.

    • Terry O’Brien

      Margie, I have heard Ashley and a couple of others on her page make accusations of harassment, but I have looked on social media where she claims it has happened and all I can see is questions people have asked her in several different ways to get answers. Questions to which she has failed to provide specific answers. One example is people have asked her what book she was referring to at Meet the Candidates night that she did not want her child to be exposed to in school. She has repeatedly refused to answer that question. While she certainly isn’t required to answer it, it would provide context to her statements regarding book bans. People would stop asking if she would answer direct questions.

      It’s not harassment to want to know where candidates stand on issues that face our students. School Committee members set policies that will inevitably be shaped by their own personal beliefs about things like how to support the identities of all of our students. She says she loves transgender students and gay students, but she won’t answer directly if she feels teachers should be allowed to have books in their classrooms with, for example, characters who have 2 moms or 2 dads or a transgender child. In fact, when asked for specifics to question on how she felt about students using particular bathrooms or playing on particular sports teams by the parent of an LGBTQ student, she responded by accusing the parent of harassing her because of her traditional Christian values (the parent did not know she was Christian. And in a town where probably 70% or more of the population is Christian, I don’t see her Christianity as being something that would make her a likely target of religiously based hate. I’m a Christian and I have questions too.). If she’s really not transphobic or homophobic, why not just answer the questions? Her silence on these specifics is what is pushing people (who I might add are not even members of the HDTC) to push harder to understand WHY she won’t answer.

      It’s an easy, but cheap shot, to retort that this is a political issue. But the people who are asking I don’t believe are affiliated with the HDTC. They are simply parents and community members who want answers.

      Last year’s school committee had exactly the same number of democrats as this year’s. Would you characterize the discussions on masking, for example, as representing just one voice? did Those democrats all agree? I think if you live in town, the obvious answer is that no, there was much disagreement. Having somebody who is unenrolled in a political party does not equate to an independent voice. Independent would suggest not influenced by the political parties. Her relentless attacks on the Democratic Party make it clear she has political bias. How can she hate democrats as much as she seems to and still call herself an independent voice? By the way, I also vote person over party. I’ve voted for people on both sides of the aisle both locally and at the state and national level. Calling into question why she won’t answer questions does not mean a person doesn’t vote for independents or people from both political parties. Her Unwillingness to answer to clarify her beliefs, however, may mean that some people are unwilling to take a risk in voting for her without answers.

      • Christi Foti

        Terry, your response is spot on! Thank you!

  6. N. Centino

    Honest Conversation? This is one of the things Ashley Fogg brings to the table. I find it Dis-ingenuine when asked direct questions she has avoided complete transparency. But her ad in the Independent claims “honest conversation” but has repeatedly deleted and blocked residents asking her direct questions & falsely claims them as attacks, they may be uncomfortable but far from an attack. The other question I have seen asked is why she quit Youth Commission after only several months, with zero response and this same issue of the Independent has background information on the 3 school committee candidates with the candidates’ past government and volunteer experience which she left out having been appointed to the Youth Commission in 2022 then quit not serving her full term appointed by the Select Board. Ashley Fogg, “honest conversation” why did you leave the Youth Commission and what books did you take issue with that your children were exposed to in the Hopkinton Public School system? A post you made this week said several books and you refuse to share. Honest conversation seems to be lacking and don’t feel I could trust you on the school committee for the best interest of my children, just speaking honestly.

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