John Antonucci statement
“It would be an understatement to say that the past two weeks have been challenging for the Duxbury community. The two issues that we have been dealing with – first, the use of anti-Semitic language by our football team, and the second, the allegations made against one of our teachers, has rocked the very foundation of our district culture. We know that members of our school community, and members of the greater community, are hurt and upset. What is most upsetting is the negative pall suddenly cast over our school district, which does not reflect the incredible work that our educators do in our schools every day, and ignores the fact that our students represent the community with distinction in and out of the classroom.
I want to make a few comments on each of the issues. First, as it relates to the football team.
As has been widely communicated, the District has retained the services of an independent investigator to look further into this matter. Like both of these issues that we are discussing tonight, it is critically important to get the facts correct. That investigation began last week, and it is ongoing.
What I do want to be clear about is that the decision to sever ties with Mr. Maimaron as Head Coach of the football team is final, and will not be revisited. When that decision was made, it was made with ample information that led me to the conclusion that a change in leadership was needed for the Duxbury football program.
To address the argument made by some members of our community that the language used was not anti-Semitic, I defer to the Anti-Defamation League, the Attorney General’s Office of Civil Rights, and most importantly, members of the Jewish community in town, and all throughout the country, who would disagree with that assessment. We need to move forward from this conversation.
In addition, I want to talk about members of our community who have really risen to the occasion in the past two weeks, and that is our student-athletes who are members of the football team. Since the events of March 12, the football team has shown initiative and has demonstrated significant growth in their understanding of the impact of words and actions on and off the field. Last Wednesday, the players attended a presentation by a third-generation Holocaust survivor whose grandfather and uncles survived Auschwitz as young adults during World War II. The presentation was powerful and our student-athletes walked away with a greater understanding of how the Holocaust was not just a historical event but a lived experience for many in our community. On their own, the football captains and several other players accepted an invitation by Senator Barry Finegold to meet and learn about the Holocaust from his perspective as a former football player and member of the Jewish community who was impacted by the recent events. Additionally, the captains have met with Rabbi Howard Cohen and are exploring scheduling a meeting between the Rabbi and the entire team. Our players are demonstrating a genuine understanding of the gravity of what has occurred and are committed to doing the work they need to as a team.
Senator Finegold, in his presentation to our students on March 27 shared that there is a term in Judaism known as t’shuvah, which means “return” or “repentance.” As an educational institution, we feel that we can use this experience for our players to learn and grow, and we believe that allowing our students to return to the football field is a crucial step in this learning journey. At this time, the football games against Marshfield for this week remain on the schedule. I sincerely hope we can move forward, and move forward stronger than before.
In the coming weeks and months, we are going to need to identify who we are and what we believe in as a school district and community. People and education are at the heart of everything that we do in public schools. Mistakes will happen, and when possible, we have the opportunity to turn mistakes into important learning moments. Sometimes situations will arise that are uncomfortable at first, but eventually, allow us to make important adjustments resulting in growth as an organization. We recognize that right now, we have the opportunity to make substantive and long-lasting change around issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and religious and racial sensitivity in our schools and community. We welcome the feedback of our parents and community as we transition through this process.
I now want to comment on the allegations made against Mr. Blake in the recent civil court filing.
First, I hope it goes without saying that we are deeply disturbed by these allegations. The idea that a member of our staff would have hurt a student is an educator’s worst nightmare. I would also add that I am a parent too, and I know Parker’s death is heartbreaking for the Foley family.
At the same time, I need to reiterate that the District took all appropriate steps to investigate this matter and obtain relevant facts and then took proper, legal action in this case. The lawsuit’s inference that I or my administration had knowledge of the abuse and did not take action is patently untrue.
But some context is important.
First, you may recall that in our statements last week that we did in fact receive an anonymous letter and phone call in 2018 which made allegations of abuse against Mr. Blake. That letter also went to the Duxbury Police Department and the Plymouth County District Attorney’s Office. Other than the gender of the alleged victim, it had no other identifying information. Not an age of the victim, not a year that it may have occurred, no specific details whatsoever of the alleged abuse. Despite the fact that it was anonymous, we took it very seriously, and took the unusual, and aggressive, step of placing Mr. Blake on leave to investigate. I should add here, that in this case, and anytime we are dealing with sensitive personnel matters, decisions like this are made in consultation with the District’s legal counsel. Unfortunately, that investigation by the Duxbury Police Department, and the Plymouth County District Attorney’s Office, as well as our own internal investigation, failed to yield any actionable evidence.
We had two other instances of reported misconduct by Mr. Blake that I think are important to mention.
First, in 2017 we received a letter about Mr. Blake’s treatment of players as a hockey coach. It was more of a complaint about his coaching style. We reviewed that matter internally, and found it not to be a credible complaint.
In 2019 we received a complaint from a student who made the claim that Mr. Blake had made the student feel “uncomfortable” in gym class, and that he was “creepy”. Again, we took it extremely seriously as we would anytime a student makes such a complaint, and launched an internal investigation, as well as reported it to the Duxbury Police Department. The internal investigation yielded no actionable evidence of misconduct, and the Duxbury Police Department found no evidence of criminal misconduct. However, since we had received the 2018 anonymous letter, we decided to hire an independent investigator to look further into the claims. In the end, the independent investigator was not able to substantiate the claim, and we were unable to take any personnel action.
Last week I made the statement to the media that we have been on “high alert” for a few years, and I want to provide some context for that comment. Once we received the anonymous letter and phone call in 2018 we were understandably on high alert based on the seriousness of the allegations. That being said, we were unable to take legal or personnel action since multiple investigations conducted by the Duxbury Public Schools, the Duxbury Police Department, and the Plymouth County District Attorney’s Office failed to yield any actionable evidence. The safety of our students is paramount but one is not able to simply fire someone with statutory and contractual job protections based on unsubstantiated allegations.
In November 2020, an attorney representing the Foley family contacted the Plymouth County District Attorney, and alleged that their son, who had recently passed away, had been sexually abused by Mr. Blake in 2006, when he was in middle school. They also identified themselves as the anonymous letter writer/caller from 2018.
We immediately placed Mr. Blake on administrative leave, and again, collaborated with all relevant agencies, including the Duxbury Police Department, the Plymouth County District Attorney’s Office, the Department of Children and Families, and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. At the conclusion of this most recent investigation, the District Attorney did not proceed with criminal charges against Mr. Blake. Once we learned of the DA’s decision, the Duxbury Public Schools chose to hire its own independent investigator. At the end of an exhaustive independent investigation, our investigator, like the police and DA, was not able to find direct evidence of sexual abuse, but did conclude that Mr. Blake violated District policy. With those findings in hand, we immediately began termination proceedings with Mr. Blake. I can also report that Mr. Blake’s employment with the District terminated on April 1, 2021.The Duxbury Police Department has received over a dozen anonymous tips in relation to this case, and has followed up on every one of them. We have been informed that none of the tips are actionable from a legal standpoint. If there is anyone who believes they have relevant information to share, we ask that you please contact Detective Mike Bolze directly at 781-934-5656 x1121.
I have heard from some community members about an anonymous Facebook post alleging that district staff were under a “gag order”. At best, that is a mischaracterization of the actual message conveyed to teachers. The building principals encouraged teachers to acknowledge the very public and painful challenges we are experiencing in our school community when (and if) it made sense in the classroom. However, teachers were not given permission to engage in a conversation or conjecture with students about individuals, colleagues, or athletic teams while there is still an active investigation. Doing so would be a violation of privacy laws.
Finally, any time there are crises like this in communities, there is always a call for “more information” to be released. I want to be clear about this. The information and statements that the Duxbury Public Schools has released about both issues, are the information and statements that we can release. I have a professional and ethical obligation to adhere to laws that protect the privacy rights of students and staff, and I will do nothing short of that.