Sunday, February 22, 2015

Voices of Franklin: Bill Callahan - Proposed Memorial Policy

Proposed Memorial at the Franklin High School

It is always a tragedy when someone loses someone close them, especially if that someone is a child. Our hearts are with the family. This letter is not directly about that loss, of which I'm sure everyone has the deepest sympathy. This letter is about why we have a policy against personal memorials on school grounds and how we decide and change school policies. 
The current policy in Franklin does not allow a memorial to an individual on school grounds. This policy was not created in a vacuum. It was decided upon after consulting a person with expertise in grief counseling, and then was voted on by the school committee and put into place based on the professional opinion that this is what would be best for the students of the school. That's fitting, since that is the primary responsibility of both the school and the school committee. 
Now the committee is considering changing this rule. Why is that? Is it because new knowledge is available that says that individual memorials are good for the students, or at least not detrimental? Is it because the expert may have been wrong, and that memorials have no effect either way. If so, it might be good to check the latest research, or to look at the policies of other schools similar to Franklin High School, and see which policies worked out the best. 
In fact, neither of these reasons is why the policy change is under consideration. The proposed policy change precipitated directly from the offer to donate a high profile memorial to a single student on public property because the family of that student has the means and desire to do so. 
One commenter implied that kids are different, that some deserve nice privately funded memorials and some don't, and those that disagree with his view are naive. I respectfully disagree. Franklin is the birthplace of Horace Mann, the father of public education. His argument for it was that in a democracy, everyone has the right to vote, so it behooves us to make sure that everyone who is voting has the education needed to make wise decisions about candidates and policies, and that the way to ensure that is to have public schools, free to all children, regardless of means. Schools, in Mann's view, are central to a working democracy, where everyone needs to be educated. Public education, should be the great equalizer, where a child can reach his or her potential no matter how rich or powerful that child's parents are. 
I know that not all schools provide the same education, that people pick school districts based on the quality of the schools, and that the quality of the schools depends on the tax base, and thus the general wealth of the families in the district. But that doesn't mean that we should throw away rules based on science, psychology and fairness because someone of money or power feels that they are entitled to change the rules that they don't like. 
I reiterate that I don't wish any ill on the family who has lost a child. In fact, I think the idea of a personal memorial is a good one. It just should not be placed at the school. Alternatively, perhaps the memorial could be placed at the school, but dedicated to all students have lost their lives, rather than just a single individual. The memorial proposed is of a panther, the school's mascot, which represents all the students. My hope is that we can reach an agreement on this that will satisfy the family and keep to our ideal of the inherent worth and dignity of every student who has passed away, whether their parents can afford a memorial or not.

Bill Callahan

​Franklin Resident​

the proposed Kristin Graci Class of 2007 Memorial
the proposed Kristin Graci Class of 2007 Memorial

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