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Medford school superintendent to retire in April

Parents waited at the Medford High School library Tuesday night.
Parents waited at the Medford High School library Tuesday night.(Samantha J. Gross for The Boston Globe)

MEDFORD — In the wake of a scandal involving the handling of a discovered ammunition magazine at a middle school last December, School Superintendent Roy E. Belson will retire April 30, school officials said.

Belson has served as superintendent for 23 years, and had previously planned to retire in June.

After nearly four hours of deliberation Tuesday night, the city’s School Committee reached an agreement with Belson, accepting his early retirement in a 5-2 vote.

Any school district decisions made until his retirement date must receive the School Committee’s approval, according to the agreement.

“We did not take this decision lightly,” said Mayor Stephanie Burke, chairwoman of the committee. “We considered the multiple years of service that this superintendent has provided to this community. He has built new schools, enhanced communities in our school system. He has always been a stalwart in anything that has been good about our system.”

The ammunition magazine was discovered on Dec. 29 in the McGlynn Middle School auditorium, but there was significant lag between its discovery and when Medford police were notified, according to authorities.

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Medford School Superintendent Roy E. Belson (far left) and Medford School Committee members on Tuesday night.
Medford School Superintendent Roy E. Belson (far left) and Medford School Committee members on Tuesday night. (Samantha J. Gross for The Boston Globe)

Burke has said that her office and Medford police did not learn of the magazine, which police have said was found with three bullets in it during a school vacation week, until Feb. 16.

Students in Medford returned to city schools Tuesday after the school committee canceled classes for students on Monday. Teachers and school staff used that time to review the district’s safety and security policies and undergo additional training, officials said.

Burke outlined other safety protocols the committee discussed in their private meeting, including hiring a director of security for Medford public buildings, enhance communication protocols, create a school safety advisory committee, publicize the tip line for the police department, and perform a safety audit of the schools in conjunction with the Medford City Council.

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The committee will also move forward in the search process for a new superintendent.

“I want to apologize to everyone for any disruption my actions may have caused. I’m confident that Medford has a bright future for its school system,” Belson said. “We have a terrific faculty, administrators, supporters. I know that we will get a lot done in the next several months.”

About 100 parents, school staff, and community members gathered in the Medford High School library Tuesday night to hear what measures emerged from the committee’s executive session.

Earlier this month, multiple Medford residents called on Belson to be fired, but on Tuesday, he received a standing ovation from the crowd at Medford High.

Committee member Paulette Van der Kloot said Belson is “a good man” and that committee will move forward in “mending the community” while supporting administrators and teachers.

Parents at the high school on Tuesday were upset with how the discovery of the magazine was handled.

Diane Sullivan, of Medford, has four children in the Medford school district. At Medford High School Tuesday night, she said it was “shocking” that the news wasn’t shared with parents.

“We teach our kids to see something, say something,” Sullivan, 44, said. “But how can we hold them accountable if the school doesn’t even report something like this?”

Eliyshah Wise, a senior at Medford High School, said school resumed today as normal.

“My friends said they felt uncomfortable coming back because they no longer trust the system,” Wise, 18, said. “I hope they talk to students and ask us how we feel. We need input, too.”

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Donna Davis, 47, has one high school-aged child and one in the middle school. She said she felt like the children were safe today, but said the whole situation was “not handled well at all” and that it wouldn’t be a scandal if the school addressed the problem right off the bat.

Lynda Panico said the situation has her feeling torn about the lessons she teaches her elementary and middle school-aged daughter.

“We’re trying to teach our kids that they should learn from their elders. I’m also trying to teach her to tell the truth,” she said. “But the administration didn’t tell the truth. What am I supposed to say?”

In a statement posted on the school system’s website, Belson wrote that a cleaning company found the ammunition under a seat in the auditorium on Dec. 29, 2017 and turned it over to the school custodian, who locked it in the principal’s office. Belson wrote that it may have been thrown out the following day.

The principal of the McGlynn Middle School, Jake Edwards, was put on paid administrative leave after school officials concluded he may have thrown out the magazine while cleaning out his office during the December school vacation.

When asked, Belson said Edwards’ status is up in the air until the police and independent investigations are complete.

The agenda for Tuesday’s executive session included a discussion of a public employee personnel complaint and a discussion of the deployment of security personnel or devices.

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Two Medford mothers — who asked not to be named — have children who attend the McGlynn Middle School.

One mother, who has a fourth grader in the middle school, said she was scared because of the miscommunication. Her daughter told her that someone found a gun in a locker, which was not true.

“I think the principal should be fired,” she said.

The other said that when the news of the findings got out, she heard it first on the news.

“There was no direct communication to parents from the school,” she said. “My eighth grader found out before me. It was crazy.”


Emily Sweeney of Globe Staff contributed to this report. Samantha J. Gross can be reached at samantha.gross@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @samanthajgross.