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Danvers school board bypasses vote on superintendent’s fate over of hockey allegations

Danvers School Committee members walked out to an executive meeting last week after a member asked for Superintendent Lisa Dana (right) to step down.Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

DANVERS — Embattled Danvers School Superintendent Lisa Dana will remain on the job after the school board Monday backed away from a proposal to place her on administrative leave over her handling of alleged violent racist and homophobic locker room misconduct by the 2019-20 high school boys’ hockey team.

Dana now faces the challenge of restoring faith in her administration, as some residents continue to call for her to resign and many others, including civil rights groups, elected officials, and the Danvers Teachers’ Association, harshly criticize her and other town officials for concealing the alleged abuse from the public.

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The sharply divided school board met for nearly 90 minutes behind closed doors after the committee’s two newest members, Robin Doherty and Alice Campbell, called last week for placing Dana on immediate leave to “ascertain the best path moving forward for the administration and students.”

Two of the five-member board’s longtime holdovers, chairman Eric Crane and Arthur Skarmeas, defended Dana’s handling of the episode, even as some residents have called for them also to step down for withholding the alleged misconduct from the public.

Crane said after the meeting that no vote was taken on Dana’s status because the motion to remove her was not presented.

“I expected there might have been a motion, but there was no motion,” Crane said after emerging from the private session.

He did not explain why the motion was not made, and Doherty and Campbell departed after the meeting without speaking to reporters.

Doherty, reached later, said she could not discuss what happened in the private personnel meeting.

She said, “I remain of the opinion that transparency and accountability are critical in promoting an inclusive environment for members of the school community.”

Crane had called the session after ruling during a regularly scheduled meeting last week that Doherty and Campbell were out of order in trying to make a motion on a personnel issue without proper notice.

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“We will issue a longer statement in the coming days,” Crane said Monday. “We are all committed to doing our part to help the community heal from the events that occurred or are alleged to have occurred and we are committed to moving forward together.”

He characterized the meeting as “on the whole, positive.”

Asked if everyone there was on the same page, Crane said, “Yes, I actually think we are.”

Crane said Dana declined to speak to the media. At last week’s meeting, she read a list of steps she has taken to improve the culture of the schools but did not address the motion to place her on leave.

The Globe first reported the alleged misconduct Nov. 6, more than 16 months after a hockey player told Danvers school officials and police he had been a target of abuse. Dana and other Danvers officials, while concealing the allegations, fought efforts by the Globe over six months to obtain information about them as well as details of racist, homophobic, and antisemitic texts and images members of the hockey team exchanged in a group chat.

Attorney General Maura Healey, calling the allegations “extremely troubling,” said her office has contacted Danvers school and police school officials for additional information. In a Twitter post that did not specifically cite Danvers, Healey wrote, “School leaders, athletic coaches, and administrators need to respond swiftly, be transparent, and support victims.”

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Danvers officials have said they withheld the information to protect the privacy of students and employees.

Dana, who has served as superintendent since 2004, received a contract extension in the past year through 2026, at a base salary of $196,000.

Campbell said last week it was “unacceptable that not a single adult was held accountable’' for the “lack of transparency.”

“As a parent, I wonder what else has been hidden from us,” she said.

Bob Gamer, a member of the Danvers Human Rights and Inclusion Committee, said at the previous meeting that the actions of some town leaders was “appalling,” but he counseled against terminating them.

“They screwed up royally,” Gamer said. But “a firing squad won’t cleanse matters.”

The player who reported the abuse said he did not want to press charges against his teammates but wanted adults who contributed to the culture and who were responsible for protecting the student-athletes held accountable.

The team’s head coach, Stephen Baldassare, is a prominent Danvers police sergeant who served for many years as the Danvers High School resource officer. He has denied knowing anything about the alleged locker room behavior or text chat, and he has since resigned from the coaching job.

Baldassare now supervises the town’s school resource officers. Some residents have called for him to be assigned to a post outside of the schools because of his former team’s alleged misconduct.

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Bob Hohler can be reached at robert.hohler@globe.com. Michael Silverman can be reached at michael.silverman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeSilvermanBB.