Middleburgh School Superintendent Brian Dunn apologized and told a crowd of about 50 Wednesday that MCS is “going to work hard to regain any trust we’ve lost” after a decision to take down five trees—three of them failing—on the High School front lawn nearly took down the internet.
The school board stands behind Mr. Dunn, President Pam Standhart said in a statement she read after about a dozen residents took the mic to criticize Mr. Dunn for the decision and what they said was a lack of transparency over the issue.
“We assure you, we have heard you,” Ms. Standhart said; the decision was made with the best interests of MCS, students and the community in mind.
“Mr. Dunn has the unequivocal support of this board.”
In fact, the school board voted unanimously to remove a total of five trees of the front and side lawn on the High School—three past their prime and two others at risk of damaging the new sidewalk—in public session at its July meeting.
The first to speak Wednesday was Phil Skowfoe Jr., whose daughter, Isabel, a June graduate, author, actress, and honor student, died in her sleep on July 23.
Mr. Skowfoe said “there’s been a lot of nonsense going around” regarding what happened to the trees; he has one—or most of one—and said he’d like to see it used for a memorial bench.
The last thing Isabel said to him, he said, was about her about her concerns over the trees.
He and others said they want to see the trees used to remember Isabel and other students and alumni.
Even though she didn’t attend MCS, Pat Federico said two generations of her family did—and she was devastated when she saw the trees down.
Steve Hendrickson, who’s daughter, Shelbie, is a 2020 graduate, said lack of communication from MCS “isn’t new and it needs to change.”
Others said the school should have shared an arborists report, while still other accused administrators of hiding the downed trees on school property.
Shelbie also spoke; the trees were an inspiration to everyone, she said, and “What you did to students here is not right at all.”
Admitting he was probably in the minority, Wes Andrew said he likes to think there was no ill intent in the decision.
“Yes, communication could be better,” he said. “But they are just trees. They can be replaced.”
His daughter, Sidney, another 2020 graduate, urged the community to move forward by honoring the alum the trees had been planted in memory of as well as Isabel with plaques or other steps.
Before Ms. Standhart’s remarks, Erin Morris, the school’s attorney, said even if the decision had been considered longer, it would have likely been the same.
The decision to take down the trees was discussed in public session “not behind closed doors,” she said, criticizing “unacceptable, glaring inaccuracies” on social media” including photos shot through the windows of school buildings.
As soon as he saw the reaction to the downed trees, Mr. Dunn said, MCS created a Courtyard Committee that will look for the best ways to honor those who the trees memorialized, likely with benches or memorials.