Report: SAU 16 Pandemic Prom Vaccine Marks a ‘Disturbing Failure’

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Exeter Regional High School

By Damien Fisher,

The X marks and numbers written in sharpie on the hands of SAU 16 students at the Exeter High School prom represents a “disturbing failure,” according to a state review of the district.

New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella and Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut released a statement Monday calling out SAU 16 officials for the marks on the hands of students. The staff at the SAU had been told not to try to track the vaccine status at the prom by the school’s Superintendent, according to the statement, but no one stopped the marking.

“The fact that supervising SAU 16 staff did not stop the contact tracing procedure, despite having acknowledged receiving the email from the Superintendent informing all staff that they were not to ask students about their vaccine status, is a very disturbing failure to protect students,” the statement reads.

The Attorney General and DOE investigated the district after months of complaints from parents ranging from the prom incident, to the way a sexual assault was reported. The review looked at six issues in the school district. Where lapses in some cases were noted, there does not appear to be any criminal or civil charges forthcoming, according to the report. 

School officials placed X’s on the hands of vaccinated students, and numbers on the hands of unvaccinated students, in a contact tracing effort at the prom, according to the report. This had already been deemed inappropriate by Superintendent David Ryan before the prom. While there is no clear legal violation, Edelblut and Formella say it was a violation of student medical privacy.

“The AGO does not find any violation of New Hampshire law regarding discrimination due to this issue. However, both the AGO and DOE are deeply concerned regarding the public marking of students’ hands and the lack of protection for students’ vaccination information,” the statement read.

In another incident, a student wore a pro-police “Thin Blue Line” flag to class and was sent home by the teacher, according to the report. Ryan told investigators two students wore flags that day to a chemistry class, one an American flag and the other the Thin Blue Line flag, for a Pride Day event. The Chemistry teacher does not allow loose clothing in that class for safety issues, and asked students to remove the flags. The student in the American flag complied, but the pro-police student refused to adhere to the safety precaution.

“Dr. Ryan represented that the teacher stated that he did not know what the Thin Blue Line flag stood for and that he did not know why the two students were wearing flags. The teacher reported that he spoke with the student’s mother on the day of the event and he denied telling her that the flag offended him. The teacher offered to meet with the student and his parents to discuss the incident, but such a meeting has not occurred,” according to the statement.

The review found no violation of the law in this matter.

In another complaint, parents raised concerns about a transgendered student addressing a Health class without prior notice to parents. This incident turned out to be a soon to be graduating student going to the class to speak to the teacher, and not a case in which the student was talking to the class, according to the statement.

 Parents also complained about a potential conflict of interest in which school board member Kimberly Meyer, who is the Exeter YMCA executive director, voted to keep children in remote learning at one point during the pandemic. The alleged conflict is the fact the YMCA offered programs for students while schools were in remote learning.

There was nothing actionable found in the review, but the statement recommended the board review its conflict of interest policy. 

There was also a complaint that SAU 16 officials incorrectly released the name of an alleged sexual assault victim and the alleged perpetrator to the press. The review found the error was made by Stratham Police in not redacting the names when responding to a Right to Know request from the media.

The final issue reviewed are numerous complaints about Right to Know and open meeting violations. The complaints include board members discussing public matters outside of the public meetings; failure to properly respond to Right to Know requests; and inappropriate use of non-public sessions. 

The review found neither the Attorney General, nor the DOE have oversight when it comes to Right to Know concerns. The statement recommended individual court action as a remedy.

“While the allegations regarding non-compliance with RSA 91-A are concerning, there is no action for the AGO or DOE to take at this time. Individuals who believe RSA 91-A violations have occurred have the option of filing petitions in the Superior Court,” the statement read.

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