John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
Citing preexisting concerns, Swampscott parents Friday presented the School Committee with a statement of no confidence in the elementary school principal who recently came out as transgender.
Shannon Daniels, previously known as Tom, also took an unexpected leave of absence this week. Superintendent Pamela Angelakis initially told parents in an e-mail that she and Daniels had mutually agreed Daniels would go on leave for “at least a few days.” On Friday, the superintendent’s assistant said she could not say when Daniels would return.
School Committee chairwoman Amy O’Connor said she received the parents’ petition Friday, and she was just beginning to evaluate it with fellow members.
The superintendent did not return a call for comment, and Daniels could not immediately be reached.
It was unclear how many signatures the parents had gathered and whether the petition was representative of the school community. The woman who launched the petition declined to comment.
Many have expressed vocal support for Daniels, and at a parents’ meeting attended by the Globe last month, many took pains to explain that they were troubled not by Daniels’s gender identity but by the rushed way the news was communicated.
Some bristled at the suddenness of the transition, which they had to explain to their children, none older than fourth-graders. Daniels sent letters on a Tuesday notifying families of the decision to immediately “move toward presenting myself and identifying as female.”
The petition the parents circulated refers to Daniels as “she” and otherwise makes no mention of the principal’s gender identity. Instead, the petition faults Daniels solely on performance, alleging the principal created a toxic environment for students and staff, and failed to recognize mistakes or listen to parents and staff.
The parents’ petition capped a tumultuous couple of weeks for the Stanley Elementary School, where Daniels’s media exposure brought some threatening phone calls and many jangled nerves. The school was in lockdown this week after a miscommunication led to concerns about an attempted child abduction. Police officers were brought in to try to soothe parents’ concerns.
The school is also at the center of a redistricting plan that will eliminate teaching positions and force many children to transfer to different elementary schools.
In an e-mail circulated to parents and obtained by the Globe, the petition’s organizers said their dissatisfaction with the principal long predated the disclosure of Daniels’s gender identity. In interviews, they pointed to conflicts with staff — also acknowledged to the Globe by Daniels — and to town voters’ defeat of a reconstruction project that would have phased out their aging building. Some parents said they had been looking to the principal for stronger leadership even before Daniels’s Feb. 6 disclosure, and a few even questioned whether the gender identity would proffer Daniels job protection. The principal’s contract is up for renewal, and the district has to offer notification by March 15 if it will be discontinued.
The parents’ petition was advertised by text and e-mail and signed at school Thursday afternoon and at the police station Thursday night.
Billed as a “Vote of No Confidence” in Daniels’s ability to run the school, the petition was circulated by parents who said they had consulted a lawyer. They believed that they needed the signatures of 51 percent of Stanley school families to make their case to the School Committee — though their rationale was unclear.
Parents and voters do not get to vote out principals. Voters do, however, elect the School Committee members who choose administrators who make hiring decisions. The parents seemed intent on pressuring School Committee members to hear their perspective.
The School Committee’s next official meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, but members gathered in an emergency meeting Friday evening to address the petition.
“We have never been presented with a scenario like this before,” O’Connor said before the meeting. “I am unclear and need to speak with my committee and with all of our appropriate advisers.”
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