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Grief over deceased son spills over at School Committee

Sami EladhariEladhari


Former AHS Spanish teacher died in June; administration disagrees with statement

UPDATED, Sept. 8: As many as 25 people listened grimly as the father of an Arlington High Spanish teacher who died in June at age 32 read words of grief, interrupted by tears.

Moncef Eladhari, aided by his former wife, Francine Brasseur, when he could not go on, claimed pressure on his son Sami because of job evaluations, contributed to his death. A statement from Superintendent Kathleen Bodie sympathizes with the parents and disagrees with these conclusions.

"Why all of this dragging in the mud?" he told the School Committee on Thursday, Sept. 4, referring to negative job evaluations his son received starting in 2011. He called the issue a "disgrace in the annals of Arlington High School."

Following the couple's 25-minute appearance, those gathered in the audience rose in a standing ovation, and then most filed out.

Before speaking, Eladhari positioned a picture of his son on the table. He spoke during public participation, which is usually time-limited. The chairman, William Hayner, did not interrupt the eight-page statement and offered condolences from the entire committee.

Parents: No revenge, vindication

Saying they seek no revenge or vindication, Eladhari read his statement outlining the issues as the parents see them.

A 2000 graduate of Arlington High School, Sami was hired as a permanent substitute for the 2006-2007 school year. The following year, the foreign language department hired him full time. In his first four years, the statement says, Sami was "totally dedicated to his responsibilities." He received no negative criticism from the administration during this period, the statement says, and was "perceived by many of his students as a true role model."

Change came after 2011-12, following the appointment of a new director foreign languages, the statement says. It does not name the person, but the director is Catherine Ritz. Asked to comment, she wrote Friday, Sept. 5: "As this is a personnel matter, I am unable to comment."

After a favorable initial evaluation, the statement says numerous assessments included "a constant flow of criticism."

The statement says Sami had allowed his teaching license to expire, but he received notice that his state teaching license had been renewed last Feb. 11, and he was reinstated as a full-time teacher, but only until the end of the 2013-14 year.

A letter dated May 17, 2014, said the administration told Sami his contract would not be renewed.

Statement cites stress

"While this saga unfolded," the statement says, "Sami never ceased during all this time, to be under tremendous stress, which was particularly dangerous and alarming, in the context of the syndrome he was suffering from!

"Many among his students, colleagues and the school administrators knew of his lifelong struggle with several episodes of physical pain."

The statement does not say what the syndrome is.

Instead of succumbing to a brief illness June 18, as many news outlets first reported, the statement says, his demise was "precipitated and hastened by the long and sustained stress carelessly applied to him ... during his last 2 years" teaching at AHS.

'Why not coach'?

With respect to negative evaluations, the statement asks: "Why not coach instead of passing judgment and condemning?"

In discussing the statement with YourArlington, Eladhari said Sept. 5 he hopes the School Committee and administration will look into what occurred so that it does not happen again.

On Monday, Sept. 8, YourArlington emailed Hayner asking whether the School Committee planned to respond to the parents' pleas.

Asked whether he was considering legal action, Eladhari gave a wave of his hand, indicating he did not want to discuss that.

Eladhari said those in the audience were friends and former students of his son.

The Spanish teacher was known for his love of soccer, a sport he coached in Lexington. AHS held a memorial service June 24 in the Lowe Auditorium.

A foundation has been established in Eladhari's memory, to continue his lifelong work of bringing his love of soccer to young people. Donations can be sent to The Sami Eladhari Foundation, P.O. Box 203, Arlington MA 02476.

Complete statement from parents

Bodie statement sympathizes, disagrees

The following statement from the superintendent was read at the Sept. 4 School Committee meeting:

"Foremost, the Arlington Public Schools community continues to express its collective sympathy to the Eladhari family regarding the loss of their son. Our hearts go out to the family. In a small measure, the Arlington community was able to share the family’s grief at the memorial service that was held at the high school in June.

"While the School District strongly disagrees with the conclusions reached by the Eladhari family about the professional relationship between Sami Eladhari and administrators, we all recognize their great grief and sorrow, as well as the pride they feel for their son.

"Further, while it would be inappropriate for us to share information about an employee’s performance or record, I will say that every decision made by this school district is made carefully, mindful of the education of our students and to give our faculty and staff the tools and resources they need to be successful."

This story was published Friday, Sept. 5, 2014, and updated Sept. 8 to include link to parents' full statement and a request for comment.

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