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Framingham Democratic official faces backlash over comments about children with special needs

The head of Framingham’s Democratic committee has apologized after facing criticism for comments he made before the City Council earlier this month about children with disabilities and the cost of their education.

The controversy stems from a letter Michael Hugo, chairman of the local Democratic Committee, submitted to the City Council on Feb. 6 in support of a proclamation affirming state law that protects abortion access and warns against crisis pregnancy centers, organizations known for trying to dissuade women from having abortions.

State officials have warned that the centers often provide inaccurate information about abortion risks and have staff who are unqualified to perform ultrasounds and provide flawed or misleading results.


That could lead to more children being born with physical and cognitive disabilities, Hugo suggested in the letter. That would ultimately cost the town, and thus taxpayers, more money, he wrote.

“Is the state going to cover the costs of special education for a down’s syndrome affected child?” Hugo wrote. “How much does Framingham’s Public School Department pay for unreimbursed special needs school transportation, specialized education and durable supplies?”

When the City Council discussed the measure at its Feb. 7 meeting, Hugo elaborated on his concerns.

“Our fear is that if an unqualified stenographer misdiagnoses a heart defect, an organ defect, spina bifida or an encephalopathic defect, that becomes a very local issue because our school budget will have to absorb the cost of a child in special education, supplying lots and lots of special services to children who were born with the defect,” Hugo said according to a video recording of the meeting posted on Facebook.

His comments drew a swift rebuke from those in attendance, including several members of the city’s Democratic committee.

“I am absolutely horrified at what I just heard our chairman say and relate this entire issue to special needs costs for our schools,” Cheryl Tully Stoll, a former Framingham city councilor, said during the meeting. “One has nothing to do with the other. This issue ... has to do with women being misled about vital health care decisions.”


The proclamation was approved unanimously, according to Marion Kelly, secretary for the City Council.

In a statement issued in the days after the meeting, City Council chairman Philip Ottaviani Jr. said the “special education community should be celebrated, and not spoken of as a burden to our municipal budget.”

In a statement posted on the Framingham Democratic Committee Facebook page Thursday afternoon, Hugo apologized for his comments, which he described as “offensive and hurtful.”

“Nothing in my comments was meant to be derogatory or hurtful and although the Framingham Democratic Committee authorized me to express support for the proclamation, the committee did not see or review my full remarks that were sent out at 12:46 A.M. the night before the City Council vote,” Hugo wrote. “Unfortunately, my remarks were poorly drafted, hastily put together, and as a result, they did not accurately reflect the meaning of what I was trying to say.

“The bottom line is that I owe you an apology without any excuses or equivocation, because my innermost feelings tell me that it is the right thing to do, especially when I know in my heart of hearts that I have upset people I truly care for and about.”


Ottaviani, a lifelong Democrat in Framingham, said Hugo should consider resigning as chair of the local committee.

“He’s done a lot for the Framingham Democrats, but this situation and his comments were very unhelpful,” Ottaviani said. “It’s his decision [whether to resign], and based on what was said he should really consider it and take a hard look at what is best for the Framingham Democratic Committee.”

Nick Stoico can be reached at nick.stoico@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @NickStoico.